Jebel Ali Racecourse staged its second meeting of the new season on Friday afternoon, a seven-race card highlighted by a 1200m rated conditions contest won stylishly by Above Normal.
With High On Life setting a blistering early pace under Royston Ffrench very few of the nine runners were ever able to land a blow with Richard Mullen and Above Normal last but one at halfway. Ffrench’s mount burned off those who chased him by the 200m pole but, meanwhile, Mullen had pulled Above Normal around the septet in front of him to challenge down the centre of the track.
As the distress signals went out on High On Life, who actually weakened into fifth over the closing stages, Mullen’s mount swept past in the final 100m to win going away and record a second course and distance victory this season, having won a handicap at the first Jebel Ali meeting three weeks ago. He also won on this course, over 1400m, in March and has proved a shrewd acquisition for owner Nasir Askar.
Seemar, along with Mullen completing a double, said: “Like so many horses this one has improved dramatically from a summer in the UAE and has done that in good style. Richie has done very well to get out of the traffic in the closing stages and Above Normal is a horse we will probably step back up in trip with 1400m probably his optimum.”
Horses owned by syndicates have made a bright start to the new season and Touch Gold Racing were celebrating a second success of the campaign after a hard fought victory by Au Coeur in a 1400m handicap, initiating the double for Mullen and Seemar.
The race was officially contested by the maximum allowed field of 16, although Fast Enough refused to leave the stalls. The race developed into a duel from halfway between the winner and Trenchard whom Au Coeur headed inside the final 150m.
Impressive when winning on his local debut, at Jebel Ali over 1600m last December, the 4-year-old was then tried over further, running consistently well. On his seasonal return he dropped back and finished third over the course and distance of that previous UAE victory.
“To be honest we had him wrong last season, thinking he needed further,” confessed Mullen. “Touch Gold’s Mike Kaye was very keen to drop back to 1400m so well done to him.
The jockey added: “The horse has plenty of speed and improved from that first run but he really surprised me today because I was always in contention when I though we might be outpaced early on. He stays further so I knew he would keep galloping and was confident we would get here from about 300m out.”
Restricted to 3-year-olds, a 1400m conditions contest looked a hot heat on paper but was turned into something of a procession by local debutant Draco who was always travelling strongly under Tadhg O’Shea.
In doing so he provided his trainer Nicholas Bachalard, with a first winner since being appointed by Draco’s owner and racecourse patron, His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, to train at the adjoining Jebel Ali Stables.
Early leader Alkhalifa cried enough at the halfway point and Wasim, attempting to concede weight to his eight rivals, swept by under apprentice Saeed Al Mazrooei.
However, O’Shea was sat motionless on Draco, a 3-year-old Astrology colt who had landed the most recent of his three starts in the US in September 2017 to lose his maiden tag. Once O’Shea asked for an effort the race was over to the delight and perhaps relief, of his trainer.
“Obviously it is important for everybody to get that first winner, especially with a horse we really thought had a good chance from a decent draw. Bachalard said: “He has actually surprised me a little bit just how well he has won. He missed last season with a few issues and we aimed him specifically at this race as the starting point for this campaign. There is a 1600m conditions race here in a month and that will be his next run.”
When it comes to racing Purebred Arabians foaled in the UAE, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda has few peers and provided first and second in the opening 1400m maiden for those bred locally. Fernando Jara was soon out in front aboard the Ali Rashid Al Rayhi-trained AF Meghwaar, having his third outing of the season and after an excellent second over 1200m at Sharjah last Saturday. The pair were never headed, galloping resolutely up the hill, chased throughout by Tadhg O’Shea aboard AF AL Arrafah who was second with the pair both homebred by Al Nabooda.
Jara, who also won what was the very first race of the UAE season for Al Rayhi aboard Hello three weeks earlier, said: “He already had two runs this season so was obviously race fit and that perhaps told as he stayed on very well after a very good run at Sharjah last week. Six days between races is not a long time but he is tough and resilient. It was a gutsy effort from the horse and a great start to the afternoon.”
The 1950m maiden was another race in which few of the field were ever able to get involved and was won smoothly by Arch Gold, confidently ridden by Pat Dobbs for Doug Watson. Having tracked Tobrave throughout the vast majority of the race, they passed that rival, who faded into fourth about 300m from home and never looked likely to be caught afterwards.
A 3-year-old colt by Arch, the winner is owned by Hussain Alabbas Lootah. He ran six times in Britain for Mark Johnston and was opening his account at the second attempt locally having finished fourth at Jebel Ali over 1800m, in his local debut three weeks ago.
Watson said: “It is always important to get a winner for a new owner so that is a great result. I think he will improve again as he is a big horse who needed his first run badly.”
Royston Ffrench could not have timed his challenge any better aboard Rio Tigre in the first of two 1800m handicaps, the pair hitting the front in the final few strides to deny local debutant Takatul.
Trained by Sandeep Jadhav for Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, Rio Tigre raced freely throughout the early stages of the race, but once settled by Ffrench was always travelling well.
Asked to challenge 500m out, they made resolute progress to lead where it mattered and Ffrench said:
“This horse is a class act on turf but we thought we would try him here and it worked out well, though I did think I was going to win more easily but the second really battled. Now he has won here it opens up plenty of options.”
It was a first Jebel Ali visit for the horse whose only previous outing on dirt, almost exactly a year ago, resulted in a heavy defeat at Meydan.
The meeting then concluded with a second 1800m handicap which produced an identical first and second as did the opening race of the season, a 1950m handicap at Jebel Ali. As was the case then, Jara landed the spoils on Hello for Al Rayhi and Mohd Khalifa Al Basti, denying Hawker who was seeking to complete a double on the card for both Watson and Dobbs but completing a brace for both jockey and trainer.