Friday’s final meeting of the season at Al Ain Racecourse featured the Final Leg Of The Al Ain Marathon Series, a 5100m Prestige handicap which was turned into a procession by Ajjaj, never headed under Adrie de Vries.
In a virtual carbon copy of their victory in the 4100m third round a month ago the pair were soon clear, passing the winning post this time with about 20 lengths in hand of the remaining quintet. Seemingly given a breather with about 2000m to run, when his rivals perhaps closed to within eight lengths, Ajjaj was then again encouraged by De Vries with the pair again holding a commanding lead and, from 1600m out, there was only ever going to be one winner.
Trained by Jean de Roualle for Yas Horse Racing Management, and completing separate doubles for both owner and jockey, he delighted his trainer who said: “This horse is improving all the time and, again, has been given a great ride by Adrie. Jean Roualle added: “We knew he would be very hard to beat today and, again, I have to thank His Highness Sheikh Mansour for the opportunity to train these lovely horses.”
Also carrying Prestige Status, the 1800m Al Ain Derby always looked likely to revolve around one horse, the undoubtedly gifted but not always straightforward ES Ajeeb, and so it proved.
Winner of a Sharjah maiden by 19 lengths in January, he then landed the Listed Arabian Triple Crown R1 over 1600m in Abu Dhabi. However, he then blotted his copybook when, with the race at his mercy, he unseated Sam Hitchcott, aboard for both those victories, in HH The Ruler Of Sharjah Cup.
With Hitchcott again in the saddle, he was well away here and soon held a commanding advantage from 13 rivals who were never able to land a blow. Kept up to his work halfway up the straight by his jockey, he never gave his trainer Ibrahim Aseel a moment of worry.
“This is a very special horse, a very good one and we do not know what he might achieve because he is still learning,” Aseel said: “We are a small yard with not that many horses so to have a horse like this is brilliant for us.”
The only Thoroughbred contest, was a 1600m handicap and it provided an absolutely thrilling finish with no less than four runners looking likely the winner at some stage throughout the final 150m.
Darkening relinquished the lead at this point, challenged either side by Untold Secret and Iftitah who looked set to fight it out. It was advantage Iftiah when Untold Secret cried enough with 75m to run, at which point Emirates Airline suddenly emerged from the pack as a real threat. Meanwhile, De Vries was galvanising Darkening with a renewed challenge and they regained the initiative where it mattered virtually on the line.
Iftitah had to settle for second with Emirates Airline staying on strongly in third, the three separated by a short head and a neck. Trained by Ismail Mohammed, Darkening was doubling his career tally having previously tasted success in September 2012 for Godolphin in England.
This was UAE outing 26 for the eight-year-old but first at Al Ain and there was no faulting his attitude.
“He has really battled hard for me there and that was a gutsy win as he has had a few problems; this was just his second run of the season,” De Vries said: “We hoped this flat, galloping, track would suit him and he seems to have enjoyed it so hopefully it opens up a few options for next season.”
Helal Al Alawi and Pat Cosgrave have proved a formidable combination all season and introduced debutant Shaddad Al Wathba who ran out the impressive winner of the 1400m maiden. He is owned by Yas Horse Racing Management, as is Khafed Al Wathba, partnered by Richard Mullen for Elise Jeanne and who chased him home on his second career start but five lengths in arrears.
Al Alawi, who trains on the outskirts of Al Ain, said: “We were quite hopeful because we think this is a nice, young, horse. His work had been good so it is very pleasing to see him win that well and it is nice to see them do it on the track.
The trainer added: “We have had a very good season, our best, which was the target at the start of the campaign.”
The best of two 1800m handicaps was won in style by Fahadd, one of the three runners sharing bottom weight, thus carrying a lesser burden than their dozen rivals. Ridden by Elione Chaves, in the UAE primarily as a work rider with some of the Scandinavian horses at the Dubai World Cup Carnival, he was never far off the pace and swept to the head of affairs fully 700m from home.
Fellow bottom weight, Ainhoa Topchef tried to keep tabs on him, with the rest struggling, but from 400m out only Fahadd, trained by Ahmed Al Mehairbi for Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ever looked like winning. Twice a winner, on turf, including earlier this season at Abu Dhabi in November, this was a first dirt victory for the horse at the seventh attempt.
Chaves said: “This is my second UAE winner, both here at Al Ain and it is great to get these opportunities, especially in such important silks.”
Trained on the Al Ain track by Mohd Ramadan for Mohd Al Aaser, ES Maydan was the smooth winner of the opening 1800m handicap under a polished ride from apprentice Adam McLean. Settled well off the pace and wide by his young jockey, he was switched to the inside rail entering the long home straight and was suddenly, tracking the leaders, seemingly travelling very strongly.
That proved to be the case with McLaren just shaking his reins at the 300m pole and they dashed to the front, establishing an advantage they never looked likely to relinquish. It was a third career win for the horse, twice victorious at Sharjah over 1200m, most recently in a dead-heat in December 2016, for previous connections.
Ramadan, who had treated the crowd to a victory dance draped in the awaiting winner’s blanket, enthused: “This horse ran very well when second here a month ago and was not beaten far at Abu Dhabi last time.
“We thought returning to this longer trip would help him and he has enjoyed it under a very good ride from Adam.”
A distant third on his one previous start and initially first reserve, Nimer took full advantage of a late opportunity in a 1600m maiden, overcoming signs of inexperience to win tidily enough in the end. Representing the Al Asayl team of HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Eric Lemartinel, he was confidently ridden by Tadhg O’Shea who settled him in just behind the leaders. When asked to challenge, he seemed to take a few strides to understand what was required but then quickened to lead. Perhaps tiring close home, he was being reeled in by Afraa but the line came in time to post a cosy one length success.
Lemartinel said: “He is a nice young horse who is going to improve. It is nice to see him win today and, hopefully, he will be a good prospect for next season now.”