Champion Trainer, Doug Watson, has his team in flying form and after four winners at Meydan on Thursday, saddled the 1-2 in the featured 2200m handicap, the only Thoroughbred race on the card, at Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
In a desperately close finish, stable jockey, Pat Dobbs, who rode a treble for the trainer at Meydan, produced Empoli to lead virtually right on the line to deny stable companion Ostaad who himself had only led for about 100m in a race where the lead changed hands regularly throughout the straight.
On his first start for Watson, Empoli, now a seven-year-old, was registering a third career victory and first since landing the Group 1 Preis von Europa at Cologne in 2014.
Fourth in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic, at Meydan, that same year, he looks an exciting recruit for Watson and his class was evident here as he looked to have nowhere to go for much of the straight.
Dobbs, seemingly equally impressed as he was relieved, explained: “The horse has a touch of class as we know from his past achievements and he has really helped me out of a bit of trouble there.
“It was very tight, especially on the turn and I did not have much room until halfway up the straight but, when we did get out, he has really picked up nicely.
“They went very fast until the first bend but then the pace slowed right up which caused a lot of the traffic problems and contributed to the exciting finish.”
The best of the Purebred Arabian action was a 1600m handicap and Antonio Fresu, fresh from a birthday winner yesterday and one at Meydan on Thursday, continued that run aboard AF Al Jahed.
Trained by Ernst Oertel for Champion Owner, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, he was sent straight to the front by the Italian and the pair were never headed.
They had to work hard for the victory though with first Dhamin, then Molahen El Alhan before a further, renewed effort from Dhamin, all repelled inside the final 150m.
It was a fourth career success, third at 1600m but maiden victory on turf for the winner who should be lauded for the determined attitude he displayed.
Fresu said: “This horse likes to be ridden positively so I was keen to get to the front and he was always happy bowling along on his own.
“At the top of the straight I was pretty confident as I was still going strongly and he then picked up nicely before really battling when challenged.
“He is tough and genuine which is always a big bonus so with luck he can win again.”
The meeting opened with a 1400m conditions race and Al Tiryaq, beneficiary of a very confident ride from Dane O’Neill, landed the spoils in style, doubling the jockey’s seasonal haul in the process.
Drawn wide, O’Neill was content to track across towards the inside early on, settling his mount at the rear of the main group.
Always travelling well, they still had more of their 15 rivals in front than behind entering the straight but made rapid progress through the field, leading more than 200m out and running on strongly.
Trained by Abdallah Al Hammadi for Al Abjan Stables, both enjoying first winners of the season, it was a second career victory for the horse, winner of a course and distance maiden in January, on his only previous outing over 1400m.
O’Neill said: “We had a wide draw but I was able to get across and take up a nice position on the inner where we enjoyed a clear run.
“I knew turning in, if we found the gaps when we needed them that we had a big chance and everything went smoothly in the straight.
“Once in front he was not stopping and he clearly benefitted from his seasonal debut three weeks ago.”
Owner Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and trainer Ahmed Al Mehairbi then opened their accounts for the campaign, courtesy of Fahadd under Richard Mullen.
Always going well, he looked likely to be an easy winner when hitting the front about 250m out, only to hand sharply right and then left. Once straightened out, he ran on well to complete Mullen’s good weekend having also ridden a winner at both Meydan and Al Ain.
Mullen said: “He has travelled extremely well throughout the race and carried me to the front going strongly but he seemed to get a shock then, drifting both left and right before running on.
“He has actually made quite hard work of it in the end when it should have been a straightforward, comfortable victory.
“That was my fifth winner of the season and things are picking up now after a slow start.”
Jesus Rosales doubled his tally for the campaign when driving debutant Jaahiz to a narrow victory in a 1600m maiden for Eric Lemartinel and his main patron, HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Having tracked the early pace, Rosales and Jaahiz found themselves left in front fully 1100m from home but galloped relentlessly to the line.
Several tried to challenge, but most had been seen off early in the straight when Injazz appeared to make a final bid for glory. However, also making her debut, she was unable to get past even though she was closing at the line with Goshawke finishing fast to claim third from a seemingly hopeless position at halfway.
Rosales said: “I am very grateful to Eric and the whole Al Asayl team for the opportunity to ride this horse who has produced a good performance.
“I was in front a long way but always happy; he has won nicely and should improve for the experience.”
The finale, a 2200m handicap, provided Helal Al Alawi and Pat Cosgrave the perfect opportunity to continue their great starts to the season, combining with Shivan Oa who ran out a smooth winner.
It was a first UAE victory for the horse, on his third local start, and he doubled his career tally in the process.
In doing so, he took both jockey and trainer to 11 winners already for the season with all bar one of those victories achieved in tandem.