Sheikh Down looks to defend title in Al Ain Marathon Series
Saturday’s racing at Al Ain, the UAE’s newest racecourse, is highlighted by Round 1 of the Al Ain Marathon Series -a handicap over 2600m- for which eight have been declared, including last year’s winner Sheikh Down.
A regular in this race and series as a whole, the 8-year-old chestnut horse was also second in this fixture in 2014 and 2015, the former year in which Al Ain opened for business and the race was titled The Al Ain Stayers Trophy, a ‘standalone’ contest as opposed to part of a series of races.
Owned by HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and thus trained, at Al Asayl, by Eric Lemartinel, this will be just his fourth race over the 2600m trip. He bids to build on his aforementioned win and two seconds at the distance.
The choice of Tadhg O’Shea, who partnered no less than seven winners last weekend, including an Al Ain treble and five for Al Asayl over three days of racing, he is joined in the field by the same connections’ RB Rich Surprise.
Contesting this particular contest for the first time, the mount of Gerald Avranche does not lack for stamina, having finished second in the 4100m Al Ain Stayers’ Trophy in February, when Sheikh Down was fourth, as well as fifth in the 5100m finale of the series in March, three places behind his stablemate.
O’Shea said: “Again Al Asayl looks to have a strong hand in a competitive race and the team are certainly in good form. Both should run well but over this trip. Sheikh Down received the nod and hopefully back on dirt and over 2600m will suit him after two Abu Dhabi runs over shorter. There are plenty of dangers and proven stayers in opposition, though.”
Heading that list of dangers is Abdallah Al Hammadi-trained Balad Al Reef, another regular in this series who will be contesting this first leg for a second time, having finished third to Sheikh Down in 2016. He then won his final three starts of the campaign, all at Al Ain: the 3200m second round of the series, 4100m Stayers Trophy and 5100m final leg of the Al Ain Marathon Series. He was twice chased home by Sheikh Down and once by RB Rich Surprise. That last win was in March and this will be his first start since.
Regular partner Fernando Jara is again in the saddle and said: “We know he likes it at Al Ain and should run his usual, solid race. Over this trip, he will be staying on in the straight and hopefully they will go quickly early so we can utilise his stamina.”
Ajjaj won here last week for Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and will again be ridden by Richard Mullen for trainer Saifaldin Deeb. However, they are not favoured at the weights, running from out of the handicap proper.
The only Thoroughbred contest is a 1000m handicap, which poses a real conundrum for Pick Six players with the maximum field of 15 declared.
O’Shea partners locally conditioned Mohd Ramadan trainee Fidaslemi, who will be having his first race on ‘home dirt’ and his third UAE outing. They are conceding weight to all but AKA Enter Sandman, a rare Al Ain runner for Doug Watson who shares the burden of top weight.
AKA Enter Sandman’s penultimate run was a good one, on seasonal debut over 1000m at Jebel Ali, when caught close to home. Said placing preceded a disappointing effort on his only subsequent outing, over 1200m at Jebel Ali, when weakening in the final 200m. This handicap debut, reverting to the minimum trip, appears in his favour.
Trained by Gopi Selvaratnam and ridden by Oisin Murphy, War Spirit won well over the 1000m at Sharjah on his one outing this season.
Another here, Al Ain-trained General Marshall, was third in said event for Danny Murphy. In fourth on that occasion was the Satish Seemar-trained Montmorency, winner of this very Al Ain race last year and --like General Marshall-- back in opposition.
Outrank, a course and distance winner in January for Helal Al Alawi and Pat Cosgrave, is another to consider in a wide open contest.