Racing returned to Al Ain for the first time this season on Thursday with a seven-race card during which trainer Eric Lemartinel saddled a treble, under three different riders and Helal Al Alawi, as well as jockeys William Lee and Ben Curtis, celebrated doubles.
The best of the Purebred Arabian action, one of two 1600m handicaps on the card, was won in determined fashion by Nizora with William Lee continuing the bright start to the season for himself and his main employer Helal Al Alawi, who trains in Al Ain at the National Stables. Nizora remains unbeaten on dirt after three outings, all over this course and distance, but has yet to finish in the first three in four attempts on turf.
In a race which appeared to be run at a fast gallop, Lee was able to find a nice berth in behind the leaders until asking his mount to close in the straight. They made smooth progress to head Fahadd with about 250m to run, but had to work hard to see off that rival who kept on gamely for second.
Lee, riding his third winner of the season and supplying a fourth for Al Alawi, said: “He broke a bit slowly but travelled well and I was able to get a nice position. I was keen to wait as long as I could before challenging because he is not always straightforward, but, dropped in class, he has been able to take full advantage.”
An hour later, trainer and jockey completed a double courtesy of Ghazwan Al Khalediah, a 6-year-old making a belated debut, in the second of three 1400m maidens. Sporting the Abu Dhabi Racing silks, Lee looked confident throughout the race, easing his mount to the front halfway up the long straight before committing for home.
“We have always liked this horse since he arrived in my yard,” Al Alawi said: “We have been very patient with him and targeted this race for his debut because we thought the trip was ideal first time and we wanted to debut him on dirt.
The trainer added: “We bought this horse in Saudi Arabia and have high hopes for him; hopefully he can win us a nice race in the future.”
The only Thoroughbred contest, a 1600m handicap, was first on the card. In a race few of the 13 runners were ever able to get involved, it was won fairly comfortably by Initial with Ben Curtis, riding at Al Ain for the very first time, aboard for Musabbeh Al Mheiri.
Ocean Bluff led throughout the first half of the race but weakened quickly once headed by Heraldic, trained by Satish Seemar as is Iftitah who loomed large as a danger on the home turn under Richard Mullen.
However, the latter could only run on at the same pace to claim third and it was left to Initial to throw down the telling challenge, hitting the front passing the 400m pole. Heraldic responded gamely to the urgings of Tadhg O’Shea but they never looked likely to deny Curtis the perfect start to his Al Ain experience. His 6-year-old mount opening his UAE account at the 17th attempt, all bar one on dirt and doubling his career tally in the process.
Curtis, already on five winners in this his first local season and based with Al Mheiri said: “The team were quietly confident of a good show as the horses have been running well on the whole.
The jockey added: “I was always going nicely throughout the race, and though he may not have won, this horse had several creditable efforts at Jebel Ali to his name before a good run in China on turf. Basically, in the straight, I was on the best horse and he won well to continue the great start to my first UAE season.”
The jockey went on to register UAE winner number six when AF Ramz made it third time lucky in a 1400m maiden restricted to horses representing private owners. Saddled by Ahmed Al Shemeili, the 4-year-old was beaten a long way on his debut at Sharjah, over 1200m before finding just one too good on the Abu Dhabi turf over the same distance.
Al Shemeili, who also owns the colt, was saddling his second career winner and first this season. He said: “We were quite confident as we knew he was in good form. He has shown a good attitude to win and can hopefully, progress.”
Like Curtis earlier, Olivier Doleuze made his first Al Ain visit a winning one, landing the lesser 1600m handicap aboard Joori for Lemartinel and his main patron, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Having his second and final ride of the day, Doleuze has now partnered five winners from just 15 mounts in the UAE, and three from this season.
Recognised worldwide as a top jockey, he showed just why here, settling Joori in last for the first half of the race before pulling her wide at the top of the straight. They made smooth progress to challenge 350m out, hitting the front soon after and thereafter always in control.
A modest Doleuze said: “The trainer gave me excellent instructions which I followed and he was proved right.
She travelled strongly and picked up well, just as I was told she would!”
There were actually three 1400m maidens on the card with 15 debutants, all 3-year-olds, contesting the first but only two, both saddled by Lemartinel, ever looked like winning. It was Fabrice Veron, continuing the theme of jockeys opening their Al Ain accounts and in his case a first UAE winner, who was probably never headed aboard RB Money To Burn who was chased throughout by Pat Cosgrave and Eghel De Pine.
Keen in the early stages, RB Money To Burn did not pay for those exertions and actually lowered the track record in the process, in doing so becoming the second winner to sport the silks of Sheikha Alyazia bint Sultan Al Nahyan.
“She had been working well in the mornings so we were quite hopeful,” Veron said afterwards: “We made a good start which helped us get to the front and, when I asked her to quicken, she did in style.”
Cosgrave was not to be denied a trip to the winner’s enclosure, completing Lemartinel’s treble and a double for Sheikh Khalifa, aboard Tawazun in the finale, a 1600m maiden.