Racing at Al Ain on Friday was highlighted by Round 2 of the Al Ain Marathon Series, a 3200m handicap for which seven went post and proved to be a career landmark 400th UAE winner for reigning champion jockey Richard Mullen.
Victory appeared less than likely on the back straight when Mullen was forced to get serious with his mount, Shamikh Al Wathba, trained on the Al Ain track by Jean de Roualle for Yas Horse Racing Management, but he responded well. Exiting the home turn, when last year’s winner, Balad Al Reef, drifted wide towards the outside rail, Mullen’s mount suddenly loomed as the main danger to Bayan who had taken up the running, fully 1400m out, from Shivan Oa. Once Mullen asked for a determined effort, they swept to the front and stayed on well, eventually posting a comfortable victory.
De Roualle said: “We were very hopeful coming here because we thought this kind of marathon trip would really suit him and it has. That was only the horse’s seventh start and we hope he has more to offer over these staying distances.”
On the landmark 400, Mullen added: “It is amazing and I could not be more proud; never did I think when I first came to the UAE that I would be achieving landmarks like this. I have been very lucky with great support from top people throughout my time here. Now I just need to put my head down and try to get to 500!”
Fresh from a three meeting suspension, multiple UAE champion jockey Tadhg O’Shea, one of the four previous jockeys to have reached that magic 400, wasted absolutely no time in returning to the winner’s enclosure, driving Inthar to a hard fought victory in the opening 1400m handicap. Owned and trained by Khalifa Al Neyadi, Inthar was recording a second career success, having previously won at Sharjah over 1200m in October 2016.
This was actually his sixth start of the current campaign and, having finished second on both his most recent outings, he arguably deserved to get his head back in front.
O’Shea said: “The plan was to miss the break a little bit because he has been racing too keenly and that worked well so I was able to ride a proper race on him. I spoke to the trainer and he agreed that was the best strategy so; luckily it has worked out perfectly. It is great to be back in the saddle and, obviously, a winner straight up is great!”
The only Thoroughbred race on the card was a 1000m handicap and Paranormal, tackling the minimum trip for just the second time in his career, prevailed under Pat Dobbs for champion trainer Doug Watson. Second at Sharjah on that previous attempt over 1000m, he then disappointed at Meydan two weeks later, but had been given a nice break since that run at the end of November.
“I ended up racing alone throughout most of the race and he was getting a bit lonely I think,” said Dobbs, who only had this one ride on the card. “He disappointed us last time at Meydan, but has had a nice break in between which has really freshened him up so well done to Doug and the whole team. I think that is the key to him; to space his races out and keep him fresh.”
Fourteen may have gone to post for a 2000m maiden but, from the top of the long Al Ain straight, only two were seriously involved.
O’Shea looked to be travelling ominously well aboard Asyad, but hard as they tried, they could not get past Hareer Al Reef, ridden by Fernando Jara for Abdallah Al Hammadi and Al Ajban Stables. Asyad may have nosed ahead about 600m out but Jara’s mount was soon in front and, in the final 300m, in total control and losing his maiden tag at the ninth attempt.
Jara said: “He has run some good races in defeat and does seem to like this track. He deserved a win after some good efforts and I could see Tadhg was going well but I knew I was also so was hopeful of a positive outcome.”
Trainer and owner doubled up an hour later when Garnishh opened her account at the fourth attempt, in a 1600m maiden. Partnered by Sam Hitchcott, she tracked the leaders throughout the first half of the contest before driven to the head of affairs at the top of the straight. She then galloped on resolutely, clearly relishing this longest distance over which she has raced and Hitchcott said: “We were quite hopeful coming here as she had two good efforts here at Al Ain and also ran well at Abu Dhabi, always suggesting this longer trip would suit. That has proved to be the case and she won that nicely enough. The yard is in good form and she can, hopefully, build on this.”
Having never been far off the pace, RB Burning Ash stayed on strongly under Jesus Rosales to win a 2000m dirt handicap. In doing so, the horse recording just a second career victory but earning some recompense after a string of consistent performances. He represents the Al Asayl team, trainer Eric Lemrtinel and his main patron, HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who rarely leave Al Ain empty-handed.
Lemartinel said: “He is a very versatile horse and probably best anywhere between 1400m and 2000m. As a trainer, (RB Burning Ash) is a great horse to have in the yard. We will just try and find another suitable race for him.”
Probably the easiest winner on the card was Da’Areen, who turned the penultimate race, a 1600m handicap, into a procession. Ridden by Xavier Ziani for trainer Saifaldin Deeb and owner Shaikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Da’Areen led pretty much throughout and, leaving the home turn was without any perceivable effort from his jockey, suddenly well clear. From that moment they never looked likely to be caught.
“That was, basically, a dream ride for any jockey and she has really won that in some style," Ziani said. “In fairness to the trainer, he told me if I could get to the front I would not be headed and he was totally right. Royston Ffrench rode her last week and, like the trainer, told me to be positive on her so I have to thank him also.”