Thursday’s penultimate fixture of the Meydan Racecourse season was highlighted by what had appeared a competitive 1600m handicap, the Azizi Victoria, but was actually turned into something of a procession by Nathr, one of trainer Doug Watson’s quintet. Soon in front in the hands of Jim Crowley, retained jockey to the horse’s owner, HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Nathr always looked to be travelling well within himself and ultimately skipped clear, crossing the line seven lengths superior of toiling opposition.
Crowley said: “He has faced plenty of tough tasks this season, but was back to a handicap mark from which we knew he could be competitive. He is the kind of horse who, when things fall right for him, is very capable of a performance like that. This is the first time this season things have really gone right for him but we just have to hope the handicapper does not overreact to the winning distance. He likes a bit of space in his races and we enjoyed that this evening. The yard has been in good form all season and it is nice to ride the feature winner for the team and, of course, Sheikh Hamdan.”
Nathr (USA) (Doug Watson – Jim Crowley) wins the Azizi Victoria Handicap at Meydan's final Thursday meeting of the season, picture Dubai Racing Club and Andrew Watkins
It was a double for identical connections after long well-regarded Almanaara proved to be the only one of the ten runners who went to post for the 1200m Azizi Riviera handicap who ever mattered. He was never headed and won by 7 ¼ lengths in a near-track record time of 1:10.36.
“The team have always loved the horse, but after his very impressive win back at the first Meydan meeting in November, he has just had a few little niggles and things did not go quite right,” Crowley added. “He was nice and fresh this evening after eight weeks off and we were hopeful because he had been working well. With luck, he is a carnival horse for next year.”
Almanaara was drawn one, as was Gundogdu, who had to work hard to get the early lead under Xavier Ziani, but once there led for the remainder of the following 1400m Azizi Samia maiden. Trained by Salem bin Ghadayer, Gundogdu was running for just the sixth time and was made to work hard by his jockey to take full advantage of that plumb draw in one. Once in front, those chasing started to drop away one by one and Ziani was able to give his mount a breather on the bend before committing for home at the top of the straight and winning under a drive.
“Ever since he joined the stable he has shown us plenty of a quality, but also a fair bit of temperament,” Ziani said. “He ran well a couple of times in January and again a fortnight ago on the turf over 1800m. He still does know he is a racehorse and is only going to improve with time and experience. Next season, with a summer on his back, I think he will be a nice horse.”
Ziani completed a double, sending Tailor’s Row, despite being drawn widest of all in 15, straight to the lead in the Azizi Farhad, a 2200m handicap in which they were never headed. Having just his second start locally and for Omar Daraj, they were only just caught close home two weeks ago over 2000m and there was a lot of confidence behind the horse coming into the race.
“I was very confident before the race because the way he ran last time,” Ziani said. “It was a very good performance as we knew he would need that run. Basically, I knew I was on the best horse in this contest so was not worried by the wide draw and just rode the horse confidently as I knew he would be hard to beat. He broke well and then responded when I asked him to get to the front after which I was never worried at any stage. This is my first double here at Meydan, so I am absolutely delighted and thank all the connections of both horses.”
Virtually last throughout the first half of the Azizi Mina, a 1400m handicap, Pilgrim’s Treasure snatched what appeared a most unlikely victory when flashing home under Adrie de Vries to deny Say No More in the dying strides. Trained by Satish Seemar, it was a second career win for the horse whose previous success was over 1800m in England for Godolphin and Charlie Appleby.
“It is the first time I have ridden him, but he is a lovely little horse who could not keep up early on, but at halfway has come back on the bridle and throughout most of the straight I was actually confident we would get there,” De Vries said. “The yard told me he had ability and he clearly has, but,running through the kickback he is tough as well so full credit to the horse.”
Seemar added: “This is a horse we have always liked and it has just taken a while to get him right. We think he is going to be a very nice horse for next season which is exciting for everyone involved.
The action began with a dramatic 2000m maiden, the Azizi Plaza, in which winner Dubawi’s Thunder, piloted by Bernardo Pinheiro for trianer Rashed Bouresly, galloped on resolutely to hold off Cranesbill and Cape of Eagles.
“This is my first Meydan winner, so I am really delighted and thank Mr Bouresly and all his staff for the opportunity. He broke very well this evening, so I was able to get in a good early position and the horse is obviously very fit because he just kept running on for me.”
Bouresly added: “This horse has been running some good races and deserved a win. He could be back in action at Jebel Ali next week.”
The finale, the Azizi Star, a 1600m handicap, was won in dramatic fashion by Cachao, under Antonio Fresu for trainer Satish Seemar. Owned by Ali Muktar, the son of New Approach appeared well-beaten by runaway frontrunner First Down at the top of the lane, but the leader hit the proverbial brick wall and ambled along until inhaled late by the winner and a narrow second-place finisher Tobaco. The winning margin was a neck, with another 1¼ lengths back to First Down.
“My horse gave me a very good ride,” Fresu said. “He faced the kickback so well and picked up very well. He won first-time out and then was disappointing, but today he was back to his best.”
All seven races were on the dirt surface and racing returns to Meydan Racecourse for the final time this season a fortnight on Saturday for the mouthwatering $30 million Dubai World Cup card.