Racing at Al Ain on Friday was highlighted by Round 2 Of The Al Ain Marathon Series, a 4100m handicap won in determined fashion by Jeemi with Tadhg O’Shea demonstrating just why he is champion jockey with a polished performance in the saddle.
It was a third winner on the card for His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his retained trainer, Eric Lemartinel, each partnered by a different jockey. Fourth in the 3200m first round of the series a month ago, the 6-year-old was then tailed off two weeks later in a handicap over 1800m here at Al Ain, but seemed to relish the extreme distance on this occasion. After 16 previous outings, the 6-year-old gelding had one previous victory to his name, in a 2000m conditions race on this course in January last year, but knuckled down well to his task here to double his tally.
Allowed to set a modest gallop out in front by Tadhg O’Shea, they were headed with 1800m remaining by Aslaan, but that one cried enough with 750m remaining and let Jeemi back in front.
First round winner, Hareer Al reef and his stable companion, Balad Al Reef both tried to wrest the lead, but Jeemi was not passing to the delight of O’Shea who said: “The trainer just said beforehand that the horse was fit and well, so just ride the race as you find it. To be honest making the running was not the plan, but he was in a lovely rhythm all the way round and then, when I needed it, he found plenty for pressure and will stay the extra distance of the third round.”
In something of a theme on the afternoon, 15 took their chance in the 1800m maiden, but only a handful were ever able to get competitive with Maktoob, sent to the front exiting the home turn by Fabrice Veron. He was chased throughout the duration of the straight by WMA Forte who was unable to bridge the gap with a long way back to the remainder. Carrying the colours of Sheikh Khalifa and trained at Al Asayl by Lemartinel, the 4-year-old colt was opening his account at the fifth attempt and second on dirt having been denied close home when second in a course and distance maiden two weeks ago.
Veron said: “He is a nice, young horse who is improving with experience and responded well for me in the straight, showing a good attitude to win nicely.
A 1600m conditions race, restricted to horses who had not won three races previously, was won by Asyyad who will no longer be eligible for similar races as he was registering his third victory, completing doubles for Sheikh Khalifa and Lemartinel in the process. Settled in fourth of the 12 runners by Pat Cosgrave, who appeared content to bide his time before committing for home 300m out and, once in front, the race was soon in safekeeping. Having just his third outing on dirt, both his previous wins had been over 1600m on the Abu Dhabi turf.
Now a 5-year-old, the gelding had a lot to find on official ratings, but Cosgrave was not overly surprised and explained: “He is a decent little horse, but just needs things to fall right for him. I rode him here two weeks ago when we should probably have finished closer, but I learned better how best to ride him and it all fell into place today.”
The opening 1400m handicap, for horses in private ownership, attracted the maximum field allowed of 15, but very few were ever able to get involved with the race developing into a duel throughout the straight between AF Tathoor and Dahess D’Arabie.
The former had taken up the running just after the halfway point, having tracked early leader, Nawwaf KB with Connor Beasley matching the move on Dahess D’Arabie, trained by Helal Al Alawi for Abu Dhabi Racing. Beasley’s mount gained the initiative about 300m out, running on strongly to win quite comfortably in the end with AF Tathoor holding on for second. In doing so, the 5-year-old gelding was doubling his career tally having made a winning local debut, last March, in a 1200m maiden on the Abu Dhabi turf.
Al Alawi, who trains at The National Stables in Al Ain, said: “Our horses are performing well, so we were quite hopeful one of our three runners in the race could win and that was a good performance. He has now won on dirt, which he was racing on for just the second time, and turf, so hopefully it opens up more options for the future.
Having endured something of a quiet spell, after a fast start to the season, Al Alawi has his team back in top form and dominated the finale, a 1000m handicap, saddling Ghazwan Al Khalediah to deny stable companion Aseyl in a thrilling final furlong battle. Also completing a double for Abu Dhabi Racing, Richard Mullen partnered the winner, denying Veron a brace on the card after the pair duelled throughout the final 350m.
The longest Thoroughbred race to have been contested on a dirt surface in the UAE for a very long time, the 2600m handicap was, ultimately, won fairly comfortably by Secret Trade, but Antonio Fresu, riding for Ali Rashid Al Rayhi in the colours of Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, was certainly made to earn his riding fee.
The Italian was hard at work on the 6-year-old gelded son of Teofilo fully 1000m from home with his mount seemingly struggling and with more of his 14 rivals in front of him than behind.
However, in the straight his mount suddenly started making good progress, but was still well adrift of Jamesian who looked the likely winner until, suddenly in the final 150m, Fresu’s mount finished with a flourish, the pair sweeping past to win going away.
A 2000m handicap winner at Al Ain four weeks ago, his most recent outing and only previous time partnered by Fresu, this was the gelding’s fourth success, all in the UAE, and third at Al Ain.
“That was hard work,” Fresu said. “But, in fairness, he has really finished strongly and this wide, galloping course certainly suits him.”
The 1600m maiden also developed into a two horse war with Antonio Fresu attempting to make all the running on AF Arrab, pursued throughout the final 500m by Jawal Al Reef who was driven to the front with only about 150m remaining by Ben Curtis. AF Arrab fought back, just failing to get his head back in front as he attempted to deny the winner his maiden success on his fourth career start for Ahmed Al Shemaili with that previous experience, although well beaten on each occasion, probably proving key.
On dismounting the 6-year-old, Curtis said: “That was a nice surprise because he had not shown much in three runs, but he is a big baby and was very green today, so should improve from this.”