The Final Leg Of The Al Ain Marathon Series, a Prestige handicap over 5100m, was the highlight of Saturday’s Al Ain meeting and the final contest of the course's season, and won, for the second year running, by Balad Al Reef.
A dour stayer, trained by Abdallah Al Hammadi for Al Ajban Stables, not only did he win this race 12 months ago but also his two previous outings this season, both at Al Ain, over 3200m and 4100m.
The latter was in the Al Ain Stayers Trophy, the former the second round of the Al Ain Marathon Series with Fernando Jara in the saddle on each occasion.
Even given the extreme stamina test, the early pace was a dawdle with Jara’s mount, who travelled wide throughout, one of several reluctant to settle. It was only at the halfway mark that the pace lifted but the race did not unfold until the final 1200m when Royston Ffrench quickened clear on Sheikh Down.
Runner-up in this last year, it looked like he might go one better this time but Jara’s mount found plenty for pressure, gaining the initiative with 200m to run.
“He just stays so well and is a willing partner which is a great help to me,” said Jara. “I was always pretty confident in the straight and these stamina tests here at Al Ain really suit this horse.”
Owner and trainer were completing a treble, Jara a double, after their Wall Street Watch was a very impressive winning debutante, proving far too good for her 14 rivals in a 1600m maiden.
She was never far off the pace under a clearly impressed Jara before carrying her jockey to the front on the home turn.
Zahee tried to go with her but was soon in trouble as Jara’s mount just galloped relentlessly all the way to the line.
“The yard said she was pretty good but I did not expect that and I was pretty much a passenger, “ said Jara. “That was a very impressive start to her career and she should improve for the experience.”
Then stable companion, Magic Number, also made a winning debut, but in very different circumstances, under Jesus Roasales.
The pair flew home to land a 1400m maiden, a victory which had looked very unlikely when she seemed to be toiling on the home turn before producing a dramatic late challenge.
Richard Mullen tried to make all on AF Metahed, well beaten on his sole previous start, at Sharjah over 1200m, in a 1400m maiden but the pair looked in trouble when Malab eased to the front at the top of the straight.
However, Mullen did not panic before challenging again, hitting the front 300m from home and powering clear Ernst Oertel and Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda who also bred the winner.
“He obviously learned a lot from his first run and won this well,” said Mullen. “He has shown a good attitude and picked up nicely when I asked him.”
The owner completed a double, again with a homebred, when the Ali Rashid Al Rayhi-trained AF Mashhoum and apprentice Saeed Al Mazrooei hung on grimly to land a handicap over 1800m
A 2000m course maiden winner last Friday, it was a second career victory after ten outings for the winner who looked likely to win easily when sent to the front early in the straight.
However, he had to dig deep to repel the desperate late challenge of O’Shea aboard Mahfouz, winner of The Ruler Of Sharjah Trophy just last Saturday.
Tadhg O’Shea had made the perfect start to proceedings and was probably never headed aboard the Helal Al Alawi-trained Naiem in the opening 1600m handicap.
It was a third career success for Naiem, all at Al Ain, but first at this trip having scored both previous victories over 1400m, most recently in a handicap at the end of January.
His only previous attempt at 1600m had resulted in a heavy defeat on the Abu Dhabi turf, in November 2015, but he appeared to relish it here and had this race won from a long way out.
“He has stayed very strongly and done that nicely,” said O’Shea. “The yard always have their horses in good shape and it is a great start to the day.”
Without a victory since beating five rivals in a 1400m maiden at Catterick for Godolphin and Charlie Appleby in August 2014, the Ismail Mohammed-trained Conquerant opened his local account, at the 19th attempt, with an emphatic success in the only Thoroughbred contest, a 1600m handicap.
Having tracked the speed until halfway, he was sent for home soon afterwards by Adrie de Vries and the pair never looked likely to be caught.
“He has some good form at on turf at Abu Dhabi, as well as on dirt at Meydan and Jebel Ali but has needed a bit of luck,” said De Vries. “This was his first run here at Al Ain and has really suited him. Hopefully there will be more opportunities for him here next season.”