WHERE IT ALL started is where it will all end! AL AIN hosted the inaugural race of the 2020/21 season and it’s where the term draws to a close on Friday evening with a seven race card worth a lucrative Dh520,000, which is highlighted by the Al Ain Cup.
The Prestige event for Purebred Arabians will be contested over a 2000m trip and has drawn together a slew of solid divisional performers while attracting a few prospects capable of gatecrashing the party.
It remains an open race nevertheless, with UAE Trainers’ Championship joint hopeful Ernst Oertel dispatching two strong candidates in AF Al Sajanjle, rated 107, and AF Al Bairaq, who shares the top rating with Helal Alalawi’s big underperformer RB Texas Hold Em.
Not to be left out French handler Eric Lemartinel puts the saddle on Darius Du Paon, who carries the colours of UAE President HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Lemartinel’s charge and Majed Al Jahoori’s Harrab are also rated 107.
And while those figures could amount to nothing on race day, Alalawi will fancy his chances with RB Texas Hold Em who has only consistently witnessed his ratings drop since arriving in the UAE last season.
The 6yo TM Fred Texas entire landed in the UAE a star following a series of stunning performances in the United States where he was triumphant four times on the bounce, wins that included a success each at all three Grades.
It must be said he has found the going rather tough in the Gulf, with his five runs yielding just the one placed effort, which was a three-quarter length second behind Bandar in the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R3 in February last year.
It was his first run in the UAE, but his form dropped considerably this season with four unplaced efforts, including two behind his now stable companion RB Frynchh Dude. RB Texas Hold Em makes his first appearance for Alalawi’s yard since transferring from Doug Watson’s Red Stables and though he has never tasted action at Al Ain before, this massive drop in class could turn out to be a good place to end his Emirates hoodoo.
On the other hand, Lemartinel’s Darius Du Paon has won two of his four starts here. The wins were achieved over 1400m and 1800m, but a long time ago, with his recent best a six and a quarter length second in the Group 3 Al Ain Mile on 12 March. Ibrahim Al Hadhrami’s Akmal was a distant sixth in that race and features here as well.
UAE Champion Owner elect Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda’s homebreds AF Al Sajanjle and AF Al Bairaq could do Oertel a big favour as he bids for a fourth trainers’ title. Oertel was level with Doug Watson on 38 wins after last week’s action, with the American ahead on the basis of a superior countback of runner-up placings: 36 to 30.
However, for Oertel to win both AF Al Sajanjle and AF Al Bairaq will have to be at their very best, which hasn’t been the case so far this season. Al Ain debutant AF Al Sajanjle hasn’t won since his massive nine and a half length romp in the Group 2 Mazrat Al Ruwayah at Meydan in February 2019, while AF Al Bairaq was fifth on his only start here over 1600m.
The latter’s two career wins have been on turf at Abu Dhabi. Al Jahoori’s Harrab’s one and only win in the Emirates was on his UAE debut at Abu Dhabi in the Group 3 Arabian Triple Crown R2 in March 2019, but his form seems to have tailed off since then with just one placed effort in five starts this season.
Ahmed Al Shemaili’s Antimo could be the one to beat in the only Thoroughbred contest, which is a 2000m handicap. The 8yo Dubawi gelding has never finished outside the top three in six starts here and boasts a record that includes a pair of course and distance wins gained last season.
Musabbeh Al Mheiri’s Dark Of Night makes his Al Ain debut but has a 1600m win at Jebel Ali to show from December, a race which was won comfortably ahead of Watson’s Far Sky, winner here over 1400m last week.
Watson hopes to saddle two big hopes in Coast Sky and Right Flank. Coast Sky’s 1950m success at Jebel Ali on 19 March should serve him well as he debuts here but he is currently a reserve, whereas Right Flank might just be preferred anyway for his consistency and the fact he was fourth over this trip on his only previous start here in January.
Ali Rashid Al Rayhi runs 8yo Teofilo gelding Secret Trade, who has shown an affinity for this venue over the years and only needs to roll back to around this time in 2019 when he pulled off three consecutive wins here starting with one over 2000m, which was followed by a pair of 2600m triumphs.
Fawzi Nass’ 2000m Meydan winner Kanood could be the dark horse but to create a splash he will have to hit the ground running on what is his first Al Ain start. A Thoroughbred winner might come in handy for Watson to earn what would be a spectacular seventh trainers’ gong!
Race 1: AF Seven Skies
Race 2: Sarim Al Reef
Race 3: Sundus
Race 4: AF Ramz
Race 5: Mootahady
Race 6: Antimo (NB)
Race 7: RB Texas Hold Em (Nap)