Racing returns to Al Ain for the first time this season on Thursday with a seven-race card where the only Thoroughbred contest is a 1600m handicap. Offering a prize purse of AED70,000—as do all seven contests—the Thoroughbred race has attracted a field of 13, including a pair trained locally at the National Stables by Helal Al Alawi.
Stable jockey William Lee partners Antiguan Rock, who will be having his second start of the campaign, having finished ninth on his UAE debut last Saturday over 1000m at Sharjah. Judged on his four British outings for Alan King, Thursday’s 1600m should be a more suitable trip, but he does remain a maiden after five career starts.
Meanwhile, Royston Ffrench has picked up the spare ride aboard stable companion Ocean Bluff, one of two in the race set to carry the colours of the season’s current leading owner, Mohd Khalifa Al Basti. Like his stablemate, Ffrench’s mount is a maiden after five starts—all in the UAE—having been unraced in Europe by Godolphin when in the care of Andre Fabre. This, his seasonal reappearance, will be his first start for Al Alawi, who will be hoping to improve the record of his new charge who has beaten just two rivals in total thus far.
“Both horses are working well, with Antiguan Rock having the benefit of that run last week,” Al Alawi said. “The step up in trip should suit him. It is nice to have Mr Al Basti as an owner in our expanding yard and hopefully Ocean Bluff can run well also.”
Al Basti also owns Arborist, one of two in the race prepared by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi, and the choice of Fernando Jara in preference to Cross Step, the mount of Olivier Doleuze. However, both have failed in the UAE to add to a solitary success registered in Europe and on the whole have been well beaten in their local races.
Another trainer with two runners is Satish Seemar with Tadhg O’Shea partnering Heraldic, who has to concede weight to all his 12 rivals, including stable companion Iftitah who himself carries second top-weight (Richard Mullen aboard). Formerly trained by his previous owner Fawzi Nass, Mullen’s mount was beaten in a photo-finish on his most recent visit to Al Ain; his penultimate start and over this 1600m. He will be sporting the silks of Nasir Askar for the first time, whereas Heraldic was a 2000m Meydan winner for his owners, the Al Bait Mutawahed Team, in February 2017.
Assistant trainer, Bhupat Seemar, said: “Both have had a run this season and our horses have been improving for their seasonal debuts. Iftifah proved last season he handles the Al Ain surface, whereas Heraldic will be trying it for the first time. We hope it will suit and both should be competitive in an open race.”
The six Purebred Arabian contests are four maidens and two handicaps. The best of which is over 1600m and has attracted the maximum field allowed of 15. The weights are headed by Nimer, representing the powerful Al Asayl team of owner H H Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his trainer, Eric Lemartinel, who saddles five in the race for his main patron, as well as RB Brick House for Sheikha Alyazia bint Sultan Al Nahyan.
Pat Cosgrave partners Nimer, winner of her second and penultimate start in a course and distance maiden in March. She ran at Abu Dhabi last week when well beaten, on her turf debut, in a race for apprentices.
She was ridden to her maiden victory by Tadhg O’Shea, who is aboard AF Athabeh, also victorious in a maiden over Thursday’s track and trip. That was her most recent outing, in February, on just her second start. Trained by Ernst Oertel for his main patron, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, the 4-year-old, like Nimer, appears open to any amount of improvement.