Racing at Al Ain on Thursday evening proved a memorable occasion for Omani apprentice Saif Al Balushi who partnered a double on a card, while Ernst Oertel and Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda also celebrated a brace.
The meeting opened with a 1000m handicap for those horses in private ownership and it provided the perfect opportunity for Ragaid Al Ghariba, previously a maiden after ten starts, to get her head in front.
Having chased the early speed, the 7-year-old mare probably hit the front soon after halfway before drifting towards the nearside rail. Once there, she ran on well under Al Balushi, riding in the colours of Suhail Ali Salmeen Ali Al Mazrouei for trainer Ridha ben Attia.
They were chased home by Ubu Al Mels and Ganesh D’Aillas, both trained on the track by Mohd Ramadan who is still seeking that first elusive winner of the season.
An hour later, Al Balushi was back in the winner’s enclosure having completed a double aboard Jamaheer in a 1400m maiden, in doing so supplying trainer Mohammed Al Shamsi his first UAE winner since February 2016 and just fourth in total. Owned by Hasan Ali Hasan Marran Al Dhaheri, the 5-year-old mare was having just her fourth career start and eventually ran out a convincing winner with the pair never in any danger after striking the front just over 100m from home.
Al Shamsi said: “Obviously it is nice to get a winner on the board and we think this is a decent mare, so with luck she can progress again.”
The only Thoroughbred contest, a 1400m handicap, looked ultra-competitive on paper and that proved to be the case with at least eight of the 15 runners still holding serious claims with 450m to run when Guernsey eased to the front from Heraldic who had led from the outset.
Heraldic fought back with Muramakkin another looking to stake a claim with Nizal and Etisalat the last to challenge and it was the last named who snatched Guernsey’s lead 100m out before running on strongly to win going away.
Trained by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi for His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the winner is a 4-year-old gelded son of Lethal Force who won twice when trained in Britain by Owen Burrows and was opening his local account at the fifth attempt having started his UAE career, in late February, with a promising fourth at Jebel Ali.
Al Rayhi said: “He is a nice new horse for this season and we hoped Al Ain would suit him and it has. Hopefully there is more to come from his next season because he is only young and we think improving.”
Sufyan showed plenty of determination and a great attitude, responding gamely throughout the straight for Richard Mullen to take the 1600m maiden to open his account on his fourth career outing and third here in the UAE, all at Al Ain. Homebred by His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and trained by Mohamed Ali, the 4-year-old colt, having been well beaten on both his sole start in Europe and on local debut, was then a close second in a 1600m maiden five weeks ago and is clearly progressing.
Seemingly in second place throughout most of the race, but behind five different leaders, he grabbed the initiative inside the final 150m and won in style.
Mullen said: “Fair play to everyone involved, the owner for bringing him here, as well as the trainer and his team who have improved him with each start.
“He is still learning and is starting to understand what is required, so with improvement to come and that great attitude, he could be a nice horse.”
The 1800m maiden restricted to horses foaled locally was won grittily by AF Al Motamen, yet another winner this season for the irrepressible team of Ernst Oertel, Tadhg O’Shea and Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda who also bred the 4-year-old colt. Settled in midfield on just his second outing, having finished fifth in a 1400m Al Ain maiden three weeks ago, he made stealthy progress leaving the home turn before staying on relentlessly to lead in the final 75m.
Oertel said: “He is a very nice horse with a good pedigree and plenty of ability. We knew he had improved from his first run and has shown good battling qualities there on just his second start, so hopefully he is a nice horse for the future.”
O’Shea added: “They went pretty quick there and a low draw is not always a good one here, especially when we received quite a bump on the home turn, so he has done well to win. He is only going to get better you would hope because he is learning slowly and is a horse we like.”
Owner and trainer soon celebrated a double, in 1800m maidens, through a thrilling finish when, in the very last stride, Connor Beasley produced Zhahana to deny Antonio Fresu and TM Nicole Lisette by a flared nostril.
Having raced twice in his native France, the 5-year-old mare was having her second local outing having been well beaten when seventh on her UAE debut, in a 1400m Al Ain maiden, five weeks ago and had clearly benefitted from the first look at the dirt surface.
Beasley said: “She was a big baby because she kept running in snatches and was almost knocked sideways at one stage, so did well to win. To be honest, when we crossed the line I was pretty confident, but it was actually a lot closer than I thought!”
They looked set to complete a treble and O’Shea a double in the finale, a handicap over the same 1800m, with AF Al Baher looking the likely winner when hitting the front 300m out. However, they had no answer to the late challenge of RB Grynade who, with jockey Fabrice Veron hard at work, was nearer last than first leaving the home turn and looked a most unlikely winner.
Once in the straight though, the 5-year-old entire, winner of the 2700m Sharjah Marathon on his penultimate start, flew home in the final 300m to actually win relatively easily for His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Eric Lemartinel.