All eyes on Jebel Ali this National Day weekend with the course staging the sole fixture in the UAE. Seven races and a fascinating mix of old favourites and unknown quantities. The 2yos get their first look at the hill in a 1000m maiden which may sound an easy enough task but you cannot accentuate sufficiently the emphasis this track places on stamina. With an official rating of 75 you would imagine, if taking to the conditions and performing to that level, Welcome Surprise should make a winning local debut for Doug Watson and owners EIB.
To put that into some context, in the maiden for older horses, in which all bar two of the 11 entries received on Monday had an official mark, the highest was 65. After four starts for Godolphin and Saeed bin Suroor, the best of which was arguably when third of six on his second start over 1200m on the Wolverhampton all-weather, the son of Exceed And Excel certainly has the most experience in the field. The worry would be, apart from the fact he was a distant last on his nursery debut off a mark of 79 so needs to prove he merits his rating, that his last start in the all blue was as recently as August. Purchased at the ERA and Godolphin Racing In Dubai Sale in September it has to be hoped he has had time to acclimatise.
Watson trained Polar River to win both the UAE 1000 Guineas and UAE Oaks. Her Super Saver half-sister, Down On Da Bayou is in opposition but beat just one home in a 1400m fillies only maiden at Meydan three weeks ago for Salem bin Ghadayer. That said, she basically lost all chance at the start where she was virtually horizontal to the stalls as she jumped out so she may yet prove capable of better because she did show speed to, at least briefly, get into contention and the yard are starting to hit top form. One horse who will at least be familiar with conditions is debutant Raakezz, trained on the course and adjoining training track by Nicholas Bachalard for racecourse patron Sheikh Ahmed.
Purchased after breezing impressively at Ocala in April of this year, the son of Street Boss is a half-brother to seven winners, all the progeny to date to have raced foaled by Auntie Soph, a Valiant Nature mare who won twice herself. Anyway, not wanting to preview just the one race so time to move on and address a competitive 1200m handicap in which the weights are headed by Drummore for Helal Al Alawi. A 4yo Dubawi colt he has not run for just over a year and arrives in the UAE with two wins, one on the all-weather, the other turf, for Andre Fabre and Godolphin. He too was sold at the Godolphin sale in September so the same concern raised above about Welcome Surprise must apply and he faces plenty of opponents with Jebel Ali form. For Erwan Charpy, Pinter won four on the spin up the hill last season and should be cherry ripe for this after two outings this season.
The doubt with him though could be whether, despite two course and distance wins earlier this year, he is better over 1400m these days. For Watson, My Catch has dropped to a career low mark of 94 having last tasted victory in the Group 3 Al Shindagha Sprint over 1200m at Meydan in February 2018. This is the easiest task he has faced since and, on his one previous course outing, he was third in the 2019 Jebel Ali Sprint in February. Now eight, the gelded son of Camacho has a decent record fresh so the fact he has not run since Super Saturday in March is not necessarily a negative. The other quality handicap is over 1600m with Watson’s Just A Penny at the top of the weights. Course and specialist are the two words you associate with this 7yo Kodiac gelding; he is seeking an eighth Jebel Ali success and fourth over this trip.
For Bachalard and Sheikh Ahmed, Top Clearance has plummeted in the weights and is another able to compete off his lowest ever handicap mark. Obviously there is a reason for that; he has been frustrating for connections and has not won since a 1950m course victory in March 2017. That was off a mark of 95 having in January 2016 landed a 1600m Meydan handicap off 100. Here he is rated 85.