Racing at Al Ain on Friday was highlighted by a 1600m handicap for which seven went to post but only three ever managed to challenge with AF Al Jahed leading the whole way, seeing off RB Goliath early in the straight, only to be denied right on the line by an old rival in Mahfouz.
The pair had clashed in the 1700m Ruler Of Sharjah Trophy last year when Mahfouz just prevailed and it was the same again, the horse putting his head in front in the dying strides under a strong drive from Tadhg O’Shea, partnering his 449th UAE winner.
It was a second winner on the card for Eric Lemartinel, who trains at Al Asayl primarily for HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who owns both winners.
“We think he is better on the sand so this looked the ideal race for him,” Lemartinel said. “We had already beaten the second horse, at Sharjah, last season in their big race, the Ruler Of Sharjah Trophy, and that will be his next target again.”
O’Shea added: “We knew there would be a good early pace which would really suit him but it was hard work and I was niggling him a long way out. He stayed on strongly battling well for me and, we managed to get there, just in time.”
Earlier his stable companion, the same owner’s progressive Mukaram, ridden by Gerald Avranche, completed a hat-trick on just his fifth career start, in the stronger of two 1800m handicaps. Unraced before November, he has improved with each outing, winning an Al Ain 1600m maiden on his third start before a conditions race over the same trip at Jebel Ali.
He seemed to build on that again here and Lemartinel said: “This is a very young horse who had not run before this season and has now won twice here as well as at Jebel Ali. Both his previous wins were over 1600m but, as we all know, Jebel Ali is a severe stamina test at the trip so we knew the 1800m here would suit him. We were pretty confident coming here and we will bring him along slowly but he is a nice horse for the future.”
Avranche added: “He was nice and fresh today after a month off. He is an improving horse and still, very much, learning about racing. He will stay further and, we hope has a big future as he gains more experience.”
Owner and trainer completed a treble in the concluding 1400m handicap and it was again Avranche in the saddle, this time aboard RB Burning Ash who led in the dying strides to snatch the spoils.
A handicap over 1800m kicked off the action and it was won quite impressively by Yalap Al Naif, further advertising that his trainer Helal Al Alawi has his team back in form after a quiet spell having made a flying start to the season. Settled in the middle of the 14 runners by Anas Al Siyabi, he always appeared to be travelling well and, when asked to challenge by his jockey made smooth progress before hitting the front 300m from home after which they never looked in any danger. For the winner it was a fourth career success but first for almost exactly a year when he won a 1600m handicap, also at Al Ain.
Al Alawi said: “We know the horse likes it here at Al Ain and were hopeful he would run well. He has actually won nicely and it is a great start to the afternoon.”
Having just his 20th mount of the season, Harry Bentley opened his account for the campaign, combining with Ali Rashid Al Rayhi to land the only Thoroughbred race, a 2000m handicap, with Hello. Originally the first reserve, Bentley’s mount took full advantage of the late opportunity but was forced to work hard to deny the renewed challenge of Broadcloth who he headed 300m out but fought back gamely. Hello just held on posting a second career success, having made a winning debut over 1600m at Jebel Ali for Doug Watson in December 2016.
This was his sixth start since joining Al Rayhi this season and the Emirati trainer said: “We were delighted when there was a non-runner to give Hello the chance to run as we thought he had a good chance. He ran well here on his one previous start at Al Ain, last time, over 1400m and we knew this longer trip was in his favour.”
Having just her second career start and making her dirt debut, AF Athabeh showed a highly commendable attitude to withstand a prolonged challenge from the equally inexperienced Marwa W’Rsan in a 1600m maiden.Ridden by Antonio Fresu, sporting the colours of Champion Owner, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, she was settled in second before, when early leader JAP Al Seyood, committing for home. The race developed into a duel but Fresu’s mount kept responding to his urgings, seemingly finding more each time the second threatened to pass.
Winning trainer, Ernst Oertel, said: “She is a filly we like a lot and I was very pleased with her tonight; she has really tried hard but was still babyish, having good luck at everything. She has managed to get the job done, as we hoped she would and we might bring her back for the Al Ain Derby because she has handled the surface very well.
Fresu added: “She was very green once she hit the front but when the other horse challenged she found more. She could be a nice filly.”
Third on her debut, over 1200m at Sharjah, then second, over 1600m here at Al Ain, Gold Crest made it third time lucky in a 1400m maiden. Confidently ridden by Fernando Jara, for Abdallah Al Hammadi and his main patron, Al Ajban Stables, Gold Crest eased into contention leaving the home turn and once sent to the front 400m from home, the filly was never going to be caught.
Jara said: “I have ridden her on all three starts and she has improved each time. The experience from her two other outings has helped here as she learned a lot and was well away this time, having missed the break twice. She was much the best in the race today so I was not worried about the wide draw. She has won nicely.”