Author: Duane Fonseca

SOUTH AFRICAN handler Ernst Oertel knows when he has a Dubai World Cup night horse on hand and is ebullient about the chances of AF Alajaj going forward after the Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda homebred romped to victory in the Group 2 Mazrat Al Ruwayah at Meydan last Friday. The 5yo AF Albahar colt bolted clear in the home straight after casually progressing through the ranks in the hands of Oertel’s first choice rider Tadhg O’Shea, the defending UAE Champion Jockey.

O’Shea only needed to give the order and AF Alajaj stretched himself out superbly to pull further clear with every stride. Eased off perhaps in the final 50m, AF Alajaj was adjudged to have finished four and a quarter lengths ahead of teammate Shabih Alreeh, trained by Mohammed Daggash and ridden by Fernando Jara.

The only half concern for Oertel, O’Shea and Al Nabooda, the defending UAE Champion Owner, is over distance, with the Mazrat Al Ruwayah run at a 400m shorter trip than the 2000m journey AF Alajaj would have to negotiate in the Group 1 Dubai Kahayla Classic on Dubai World Cup night, 26 March. Oertel doesn’t think that is likely to be a problem as he revealed AF Alajaj’s weekly gallops at Meydan have helped him come to love the surface.

The Mazrat Al Ruwayah strangely was his first competitive outing at Meydan. And that fifth and biggest career success in ten starts was no fluke as Oertel explained after the awards presentation: “To be honest we were quite confident about tonight. We come here probably once a week and he knows the place; it’s like home.”

AF Alajaj won three of his four starts last season and is two in six this term, with the rest of his efforts yielding podium finishes at the very least. Oertel feels AF Alajaj is on his way to showing his best as he dreams of winning the Dubai Kahayla Classic for the second time after AF Maher delivered the honour in 2019 for Al Nabooda under O’Shea.

The trio came close last year too with AF Alwajel being headed 200m from the finish after setting the pace for the race from the start only to finish three-quarters of a length behind French raider Deryan, owned by Yas Horse Racing Management. “I feel like he’s just coming into himself.

He has the rating he deserves and we just have to make sure he can stay 2000m but I’m sure that won’t be a problem and he can come back for the Kahayla,” the thrice UAE Champion Trainer added. “He settles well and has that instant turn of foot and quickens and there aren’t many around that can quicken like he does and if you have a special horse that’s what sticks out with them.”

Oertel, however, was still unsure whether to send him straight to the Dubai Kahayla Classic or let him compete for the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R3, which is the course and distance equivalent of the former that runs three weeks prior on the Super Saturday card on 5 March. “I’m thinking maybe the Al Maktoum Challenge R3, but he runs very well fresh so we might just leave him for the Kahayla Classic,” he said.