THE GRUELLING Al Ain Marathon Series kicks off in the Garden City this week with the first of three legs the feature among the seven races scheduled for Sunday evening. A total of Dh530,000 in prize money will be on offer during the course of the night, with Dh110,000 reserved for the showpiece First Leg of the Al Ain Marathon Series.

The entire card has been dedicated to Purebred Arabians, with three maidens and a further three handicaps completing the programme. The feature will be contested as a 3200m handicap and in it Abdalla Al Hammadi has a strong hand to play with Al Ajban teammates Balad Al Reef, Hareer Al Reef and Octave, as well as Whistle, all more than capable of handling the rigours of the stretch.

In fact the winner in this relatively weaker field could come from within that quartet. A 11yo full son of Bibi De Carrere, Balad Al Reef has numerous wins in the series and raised his game tremendously in 2017 when successfully winning the Triple Crown of these marathon races.

He failed to yield fruit last term, but Al Hammadi won’t be too perturbed about that run of form as he went down once in the third and lengthiest round over 5100m, a race which carries Prestige status, to Hareer Al Reef, who is another Al Ajban luminary.

Hareer Al Reef won this corresponding run in 2019 and the win over his teammate over the gargantuan 5100m trip might have been atonement for defeat in the 2019 renewal of the race. However, on Saturday with the slate wiped clean, the pair will face off yet again, with Octave looking to gain from their rivalry and sneak into the photo at the finish.

Octave has just two career wins to his credit and one of those has been in the 2020 running of Round 3. His manner of victory then, he won by 20 lengths from Hareer Al Reef going gate to post unchallenged, suggests he has the potential to cruise peerlessly, but he has no experience of running in the shortest version of the series and that might be a challenge in itself.

Sufyan, trained by Majed Al Jahoori for Yas Racing, might be the best of the rest after his narrow victory over Hareer Al Reef in the 2020 renewal of the race. He doesn’t really have much to show apart from that with his three runs this term being tepid performances at best.

Helal Alalawi’s Asraa Min Al Talqa closed last season with victory in a 2700m handicap at Sharjah and his trainer will be hoping he can stay further like he did when finishing seventh over a similar distance at Doncaster, in June 2018 in better company.

With the feature out of the way it’s time to focus on the rest of the programme and the next best event on it could be the 1400m handicap where Khalifa Al Neyadi might be expecting a lot too soon from his divisional star AF Ramz, who is clearly a fan of the surface having claimed all his six career wins here, including two this season.

The 8yo son of Al Kesbe has made six starts already and followed his first win over 1600m by just about holding on to win last week’s feature 2000m conditions race by a short head. It could be argued that he might be running too soon with next best Ashton Tourettes, trained by Ibrahim Aseel, also featuring among the opposition.

Aseel’s charge could be in a strong position to make a worthy bid here having had enough rest since his triumph over 1600m at Abu Dhabi on 19 December, but Al Ain hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for him in the past with two fifths his best in six starts.

Ahmed Al Shemaili’s Hazeem Al Raed won a course and distance handicap comfortably last January and could be the party pooper for the rest having already sampled success here in a 1000m run in early December. Jean de Roualle’s Samid could be the one to beat in the 1000m sprint.

The Munjiz colt made a lively start to racing in the UAE winning a 1200m maiden at Abu Dhabi by a solid six lengths and placed fourth thereafter on a massive upping in grade here on 11 December. Samid’s Yas teammate Leena, trained by Al Jahoori, posted a classy five length course and distance victory on her UAE debut with a subsequent run in a conditions track and trip affair yielding a not too distant fourth.

Representing the colours of defending UAE Champion Owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, AF Thayer, trained by Ernst Oertel, could be the surprise package of the field as he marks his course debut following a series of notable performances in lesser company in the sprint division, which comprises of a 1200m win at Sharjah last February.

Teammate AF Taghzel shed his maiden tag over course and distance here two years ago and could go well too.

Selections

Race 1: No Risk At All
Race 2: Shoaa’
Race 3: Inato De Carrere (NAP)
Race 4: Mutaqadim
Race 5: Heros De Lagarde
Race 6: Sufyan
Race 7: AF Thayer