THE FINAL DOMESTIC FIXTURE of the season at the UAE’s flagship iconic racecourse obviously does not have the international flavour or Group One appeal of the Dubai World Cup card, the previous meeting on the track, but it is a quality affair in its own right.

We have eight races to look forward to but just two on the dirt surface. The highlight appears to be the Zabeel Trophy, a rated conditions contest over 1600m on the Meydan lawn, such as it has been described by impressed overseas visitors.

Godolphin and Charlie Appleby, yes the ‘boys in blue’ have not all departed these shores just yet, are represented by Velorum. A 5yo gelded son of Sea The Stars, he ran twice at the Dubai World Cup Carnival, finishing eighth in Group Two company on both occasions.

Obviously this is a big drop in class and he was impressive winning his sole start of 2020, a 1400m Meydan turf handicap. He will surely be hard to beat under these conditions. When he won that race late last February, he was chased home by Zainhom who was entered in this but not declared by seek to gain his revenge for Musabbeh Al Mheiri and Shadwell For Abdulwahhab Misbah Rajab Altireeki, a relatively new owner seeking a first winner after just eight runners with two horses, Al Mheiri does saddlee Royal Dornoch, having just his second start for current connections.

A 4yo Gleneagles colt, he was previously campaigned by the Ballydoyle juggernaut of Aidan O’Brien, winning thrice, most recently the Group 3 Desmond Stakes over 1600m at Leopardstown last August. As a juvenile, over 1600m at Newmarket, he landed the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes so his talent is undoubted.

His first start for Al Mheiri was in Saudi Arabia, not surprisingly outpaced behind Space Blues in the 1351m turf sprint. His local debut was on Super Saturday, on dirt, in the 1600m Group 3 Burj Nahaar when he did not appear to relish the surface.

These are certainly ‘stiller waters’ and he may well yet appear well bought at 35,000gns, the price he realised at Tattersalls last October. Doug Watson is embroiled in a fascinating battle with Ernst Oertel for the trainers’ championship and is predictably well represented throughout this all Thoroughbred card.

In this feature his Mount Pelion looks certain to be a popular online Pick Six selection; far better judges than I marked him down as ‘most unlucky loser of the season’ when he was fourth in a carnival handicap over this 1600m turf course and distance at the end of January.

He was then, however, somewhat disappointing in a turf handicap, over 1800m, at a Meydan domestic meeting. That was only 16 days later though, probably a quicker than ideal return to action after such a big effort, so it is easy to forgive the 6yo gelded son of Raven’s Pass that lacklustre effort.

He has not run since, so arrives here after eight weeks off so should be ‘fresh as a daisy’. It truly is a fascinating feature and a case can be made for each and every one among the capacity field of 16. The best of the dirt action is, officially, a 1900m conditions race for the 3yo Classic generation.

I say official in that it is worth more than the other dirt race, a 1400m handicap, although the latter looks a stronger race. Anyway, back to the preview (Editor: Thank you!). Watson relies on Faithful Soldier, a 1400m Jebel Ali maiden winner on his second and most recent start.

Prior to that he was never sighted, after a sluggish start, in a 1600m Meydan maiden won by subsequent Al Bastakiya winner and UAE Derby runnerup Panadol. Watson’s charge shares the burden of top weight with Grand Dubai, owned and trained by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi.

As with so many from this yard, he has been kept busy in his debut campaign and will be having his ninth start. He has been on the go since the very first fixture of the Meydan campaign, at the beginning of November, but his astute handler does seem to have a knack of keeping his horses in fine form despite regular racecourse appearances.

He has just the one win to his name, a 1600m Meydan maiden, making it third time lucky on his final start as a juvenile. He has hardly missed a dance since, his subsequent five appearances including finishing fourth in the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas and sixth in the Listed Al Bastakiya on Super Saturday, over this 1900m.

He was staying on well on that occasion so the trip appears to suit and this is a lot lesser opposition than he has encountered recently. Fawzi Nass saddles Endifaa, one place in front of Grand Dubai, whom he meets on better terms here, but still a maiden after four attempts.

He was also ahead of Faithful Soldier when runner-up in the aforementioned 1600m won by Panadol. He too would appear to have no stamina concerns. Having mentioned in passing the 1400m dirt handicap, it would seem rude not to mention it in a tad more detail.

The weights are headed by Mubakker, to be saddled by Watson for Shadwell. A 5yo entire, he will be making his local and dirt debut but, as a son of Speightstown, the surface should not be an issue. He arrives from the UK and the Newmarket yard of Sir Michael Stoute, from where he ran just six times, winning half of those outings.

When racing returned to Britain after lockdown last summer, he won a 1200m handicap on the all-weather at Newcastle. At the time it was a taking performance but became significantly more noteworthy when the runner-up, Glen Shiel, won the Group 1 British Champions Sprint at Ascot in October.

On the flip side, Watson’s new recruit bade farewell to Europe after just one subsequent outing, back at Newcastle over 1200m in the Group 3 Chipchase Stakes, 25 days after he defeated Glen Shiel. The result was a complete paradox: he failed to beat any of ten rivals as a very disappointing favourite.

That was at the end of June and the fact that he has not shown his pretty grey face (Editor: really?) in public since suggests something may well have been amiss. So, back to Watson vs Oertel! It’s 38 winners apiece and this is the former’s big chance to get back out in front and he, assistant Noel Connolly and various other employees will be busy ferrying saddles back and forth throughout the evening.

Meanwhile Oertel will, presumably, be watching, like most of us from home with his powder kept dry until Al Ain tomorrow. It was no surprise not to see his name on the Meydan entries, neither to see it plastered throughout the six Purebred Arabian races at Al Ain where Watson is only involved in the sole Thoroughbred race.

Selections

Race 1: Martial Art
Race 2: Cocobai
Race 3: Mubakker
Race 4: Lavaspin
Race 5: Endifaa (NB)
Race 6: Velorum (Nap)
Race 7: Pharaoh King
Race 8: Deep Intrigue