Racing at Abu Dhabi on Sunday is highlighted by a quality renewal of the 1200m Group 3 Al Ruwais in which the weights are headed by ES Ajeeb, undoubtedly one of the fastest Purebred Arabians in the UAE, but considered a better performer on dirt as opposed to the turf in the capital.
However, the 5-year-old son of Big Easy, himself winner of this in three consecutive seasons between December 2002 and January 2005, has won on the Abu Dhabi turf, over 1600m which was plenty far enough for him, so we should be able to expect a bold showing.
Owned and bred by Sheikh Abdulla bin Majid Al Qassemi, chairman of the Sharjah Equestrian & Racing Club, he has been a real star for his trainer, Ibrahim Aseel and regular jockey, Sam Hitchott. The pair were never headed in the 1400m Group 3 Bani Yas on the dirt at Meydan on their penultimate start and, more recently, over 1200m on home dirt in the HH The Crown Prince of Sharjah Cup.
Hitchcott said: “As we have always said, he is a better horse on dirt, but there are just so few sprint races for him and he is all about speed. He has to give weight away as well which is not ideal, but at least the 1200m trip is in his favour and he has won on the Abu Dhabi turf.”
Among the opposition is Wadeeaa, winner of the 1600m Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R1 during the second fixture of the Dubai World Carnival.
She was never headed in that dirt feature, providing trainer Mohamed Ali with his first winner of the season and a biggest ever career victory for jockey Szczepan Mazur. Homebred by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the 5-year-old mare has won on turf in Europe, but has never tackled a trip as short as 1200m before.
“She was very game over the 1600m at Meydan when she was tiring last on,” Mazur said. “She showed plenty of speed though and hopefully the 1200m will suit her.”
On her penultimate start, she was third in Abu Dhabi’s 1600m Group 3 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup, won by RB Torch, saddled by Eric Lemartinel for His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Subsequently twice beaten on the dirt at Meydan, including behind Wadeeaa, the 8-year-old entire was second in this race last year.
For Sheikha Alyazia bint Sultan Al Nahyan, the Al Asayl-based trainer also has RB Money To Burn in the field and she is receiving a healthy weight allowance from the rest. After two starts, a 1400m Al Ain maiden and the 1600m Listed Abu Dhabi Championship, she has looked very smart on both occasions and adds further intrigue to the contest.
Jean de Roualle won this last year with Rmmas, owned by Yas Horse Racing Management and partnered by Richard Mullen. This year, that combination are represented by Mirna, a 7-year-old mare who has finished behind both Wadeeaa and ES Ajeeb at Meydan on her two starts this season. However, her one previous local outing, her UAE debut, was in this race last year when running on in fifth, but without ever threatening to land a blow.
The main support race is the 1600m Group 3 Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club Gold Cup, restricted to horses foaled in the UAE and won last year by Al Tiryaq, ridden by Hitchcott for Abdallah Al Hammadi and his main patron, Al Ajban Stables. If he can defend his crown he will emulate Saken, who landed three consecutive renewals between 2003 and 2005, as well as Abhaar, victorious in 2015 and 2016. The latter was among the entries this year for Sheikh Khalifa and Lemartinel, but the trainer has opted to rely on Shaheer, the choice of Pat Cosgrave, and Mukaram, who will be ridden by Fabrice Veron.
Ernst Oertel and his main patron, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, are enjoying a fantastic season and, in a competitive renewal, look to hold major claims with AF Al Hazer, the mount of the owner’s retained jockey, Tadhg O’Shea.