TODAY (Thursday) is not only a Meydan evening but also Derby day in Qatar and the maximum field of 16 will face the starter for the Group One Thoroughbred version. An international cast has been assembled with three contenders from Europe clashing with 13 trained locally in the 2000m local Group One. Sheikh Hamdan’s new jockey, Jim Crowley, is an action and rides Scarlet Dragon for Eve Johnson Houghton, the sole representative from the UK. A steady improver in England last season, he won four times, including his most recent start at Newmarket and, in July, under Crowley at Newbury.
“He seems in great form,” said Johnson Houghton, whose stable star travelled to Qatar late last week. “He had a holiday at the end of the season and has come back great. He had a good four weeks turned out and is spot on now. “I can’t see why conditions out there won’t suit him. He doesn’t seem to mind the ground and he’s won on soft and good. He’ll like the flat track and we’re going out there fully expecting conditions to suit. “I saw the original entries and it looked like he was third from the top on ratings, but haven’t seen what’s likely to run.
You have to think he’d have a really good chance.” Adrie de Vries, who enjoyed a Sharjah double last Saturday, is swerving Meydan in order to partner Noor Al Hawa, one of two runners trained in Germany. A Listed winner at Deauville in August, he followed that up with two consecutive Group Three victories at Dusseldorf. His trainer, Andreas Wohler saddled Rogue Runner who dead-heated in this race 12 months ago with Tannaaf, saddled by Mike de Kock for Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum. Perhaps significantly though, Eduardo Pedroza, aboard Rogue Runner last year, partners Open ‘N Shut for Ibrahim Al Malki.
Also from Germany is the Mario Hofer-trained Noble House, a winner on debut in May, he has not won in three subsequent outings but was considered good enough to take his chance in the Deutsches Derby, albeit he was well beaten. Koen Clijmans rides. Heading the local challenge looks to be Opera Baron, to be ridden by Qatari Champion Jockey, Harry Bentley for the local Champion Trainer, Jassim Mohammed Ghazali. Winner of his last three starts, including the Group 2 Derby Trial, over 1850m, he should stay the extra 150m and looks sure to give a good account of himself.
Stable companion, Thewayyouwish, the mount of Pierantonio Convertino looks a live danger to give Ghazali a strong hand. Julian Smart saddles both Barwod and Life Imitates Art under Marco Monteriso and Alberto Sanna respectively, while Olivier Peslier and Pat Cosgrave are among the jockeys flying in for the meeting. Peslier partners Ard San Er, with Cosgrave aboard Gerrard’s Quest and Alan Munro appearing a notable jockey booking for Debbie Mountain’s French Encore. The Purebred Arabian version, also over 2000m, carries Group Two status and Peslier, aboard Tayf for his French compatriot, Alban de Mieulle, looks to hold major claims along with stablemate, Rasheed. Bentley and Ghazali combine with Spaghetti but a bigger danger may well come from stable companions Aaley Al Magam and Reda, both trained by Smart.