This week’s Al Ain card is highlighted by a couple of Purebred Arabian Prestige races, the Al Ain Derby and the Final Leg of the Al Ain Marathon Series, a handicap which is the longest race to be held in the UAE at an enormous distance of 5100m. The seven race card gets underway with an 1800m handicap for Purebred Arabians where the Ernst Oertel pair of AF Al Baher and AF Eshaar are likely to be the ones to watch with their respective riders Tadhg O’Shea and Richard Mullen involved in yet another captivating race for the UAE jockeys’ championship. Moving on, as has always been the case at Al Ain, the second race on the card has been reserved for the only Thoroughbred contest with Jamesian looking strong alongside Secret Trade, who has won twice consecutively heading into this contest, including a course and distance success on his last outing.
Satish Seemar saddles a trio with Press Room, Immortalised and Just Pretend all set to face the starter. And while the Thoroughbred contest nearly always enthralls in the Oasis City, the most engaging of the seven contests should be the 5100m handicao which is a true test of stamina. Eric Lemartinel saddles five of the 11 runners with Jeemi, Mahfouz, Mukaram, RB Grynade and Snaffy all running in the colours of HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, The President of the UAE. Jean De Roualle and Abdallah Al Hammadi have a pair each with Frenchman De Roualle’s defending champion Ajjaj carrying the highest rating of 100 and is the only horse giving away weight and that too a lot of it. At 60kg, he carries seven more than the rest of his rivals who are all weighted at 53kgs and running from ‘out of the handicap’ thus carrying more weight than the handicapper origiinally allocated them.
De Roualle’s other runner Shamikh Al Wathba is another big name in the field but the spotlight is bound to be on Ajjaj and whether he can defend a title he won in style last year when following up on his success in Round 2 of the Al Ain Marathon Series over 4100m where he beat stablemate Shamikh Al Wathba by nearly 11 lengths. The route Ajjaj has gone down this season has been very different though with 2200m the furthest he’s run competitively as he skipped the second round that was won by Lemartinel’s Jeemi, who he lines up against Saturday. De Roualle said: “Ajjaj has no races to run basically because there aren’t any for him in the conditions book, so he has had to run in other races which is a shame. “He qualifies to run here but with 60kgs so he is just giving lots and lots of weight to the other horses who are at 53kgs, seven kilos is a lot to give.”
Speaking of Shamikh Al Wathba, De Roualle added: “He had a good run first time out and then didn’t try too much on his second run when sixth to Jeemi in Round 2, but he is well and we feel he has a good chance. There’s seven kilos between him and Ajjaj and that will make a lot of difference. But they’re both well.” Jeemi’s success in the 4100m contest on his last run has put the wind in his sails and he firmly believes with a bit of improvement, the 6yo gelded son of Al Nasr will be give the rest a run for their money. “Jeemi won the second round of the Marathon series and he should improve from that so he should go this distance as well,” Lemartinel said. “He runs consistently so we feel he will do well during the race. “Mukaram hasn’t tackled this distance before but he qualifies for the race and we feel he has a chance if he stays well. He didn’t do well on his last run, but is a good horse and we’ll see how he goes. Jeemi and Mukaram both have a chance.”
Lemartinel saddles four among the 15 in the Al Ain Derby over 1800m, which is the penultimate race on the card and looks favourably at Maktoob and Mustajeeb as his two hopes from the quartet. “Maktoob definitely has a chance because he has won at that distance and though he switches from turf he should be fine with that. He is a good horse. Mustajeeb seems to have improved too on his last run and the distance should be fine for them,” Lemartinel added. Ernst Oertel fields two with AF Saabah and AF Hajeej both sharing the joint highest rating of 50 with Lemartinel’s Maktoob.