Not the first meeting of the UAE season this time around, racing returns to Jebel Ali with seven races, officially highlighted by a 1400m handicap won last year by High On Life, back to defend his crown. Something of a straight course specialist, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohd’s 8yo has recorded all eight career victories in races he has not had to negotiate a bend, the Invincible Spirit gelding is seeking a fifth UAE victory and sixth at Jebel Ali having also won a 1200m turf sprint at Meydan. Although victorious in this in 2018, he only just held on and the 1400m trip does appear very much his maximum so his supporters Salem bin Ghadayer has Royston Ffrench’s mount ‘fully wound up’ on his first start since April.
Runner-up last year was Riflescope who, if the race had been over 1410m, would probably have prevailed. Hot Scot Racing Stable’s speedster, trained by Satish Seemar, was an impressive 1200m winner on the Meydan turf in February and, over the same course and distance, a very creditable fourth in the Group 3 Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint on Super Saturday.
A 6yo gelded son of Raven’s Pass, he was second when last seen, again on the ‘green stuff’ at Meydan over 1200m in a race High On Life was a disappointment in ninth. That race was won by Rocket Power, a revelation last season when he won on no less than five occasions, three at Jebel Ali and including once over this 1400m. Prepared by Ahmad bin Harmash for Mohd Khalifa Al Basti, the 6yo Kyllachy gelding was one of several entered in both the feature and a 1200m handicap with, unsurprisingly, connections opting for the longer race. Also owned by Al Basti but in the capable care of Doug Watson, course specialist Just A Penny, seven times a course winner but not since March 2018, and Mystique Moon give the owner a very strong hand in a fascinating contest.
A 5yo Shamardal gelding, Mystique Moon was progressive last season, his first in the UAE with his two victories including one over this 1400m course and distance. That was in a rated conditions race in February so conditions certainly hold no fears for him. Having missed all last season, Sheikh Hamdan’s Eqtiraan will be making his dirt debut on what will be his first appearance since finishing a respectable fifth in the Super Saturday Group 1 Jebel Hatta of 2018. Second to the same owner’s Muntazah on his previous outing in the 1400m Listed HH The President Cup on the Abu Dhabi turf, if taking to Jebel Ali he will be a big danger to all for a yard that tends to start the season quickly. A gelded 5yo, he is a son of Helmet whose most famous progeny is surely Thunder Snow, the only dual winner of the Dubai World Cup, offering hope the switch to dirt may suit.
The aforementioned 1600m handicap looks similarly competitive, as you would expect at the first fixture of the season, with the absence of Rocket Power perhaps leaving Pinter as the most interesting contender. Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohd’s 7yo Exceed And Excel gelding won four consecutive races at Jebel Ali last season, twice over 1400m, the other pair over 1200m. A real star for Erwan Charpy, he was fourth the last time he tackled 1600m at Meydan in early November last year and his style of racing suggests the trip will suit unless, like High On Life, he needs a straight track to excel. When making a winning debut, as a 3yo, in a 1000m Jebel Ali maiden in January 2018, The New Maharaja looked an exciting prospect for Satish Seemar but failed to fire in two outings last November after which he was gelded and not seen again in public. If able to fulfil that initial promise, the 4yo Morning Line gelding could prove well treated off a handicap mark of 85. Formerly with Mike de Kock, Sheikh Hamdan’s Alfolk will be having his first start for Watson and, having spent the summer at Red Stables, the 5yo Lonhro gelding appeals as the type to improve in his second local season.