A cracking card at Jebel Ali on Friday afternoon was highlighted by two of their annual three big races. It was especially memorable for trainer Helal Al Alawi who saddled his biggest ever Thoroughbred winner, when Shillong ran on strongly to land the 1000m Listed Jebel Ali Sprint.
A course specialist, who gets on particularly well with Pat Cosgrave, again in the saddle, he finished with a flourish to deny the favourite, High On Life, who tried to make all under Mickael Barzalona and was expected to complete the big race double on the afternoon for trainer Salem bin Ghadayer.
However having kicked clear 300m out, Barzalona’s mount, a turf winner at Meydan just last week was visibly tiring with 200m remaining and the jockey was sending out distress signals.
Emerging from the pack was Shillong who has now registered all five career victories at Jebel Ali with Cosgrave in the saddle each time. Having won a 1200m maiden last March, he had already won three handicaps over that trip this season ‘up the hill’ and was denied by a head on his only previous try at 1000m.
Al Alawi, who trains the winner for the Byerley Team, was understandably delighted. He said: “This is a great result for us. We have had big wins with Sniper De Monlau, our best Purebred Arabian but are trying to improve our class of Thoroughbreds as well. Al Alawi continued: “This horse had done really well for us before today but this is a bit special and well done to Pat; it was a great ride on a horse he knows well.”
Cosgrave added: “My horse loves it here as we know and I have blamed myself for a couple of his defeats. The 1000m is sharp enough for him but they went quick which helped him.
“He needs to be covered up and have something to chase so I followed High On Life and we were fortunate enough to get past him.”
The other feature, the 1950m Listed Jebel Ali Stakes, looked competitive on paper but was turned into a procession by Montsarrat, sent straight to the front by Tadhg O’Shea. They seemed to be going a good gallop from the outset with first Mizbah, then Top Clearance, unable to stay with Montsarrat.
Still sat motionless 600m out, O’Shea then asked for an effort and the race was over with the pair powering up the hill to win in style. They were chased home by stable companion Galles, who was probably second throughout the duration of the long straight under Xavier Ziani. Both are trained by Bin Ghadayer.
Owned by Ahmad Ghalita Almheiri, Montsarrat was a wide margin winner of a 2200m Meydan dirt handicap in early January but had been beaten twice there since including once on turf.
This first look at Jebel Ali clearly suited him and O’Shea, winning the race for a second time but first since 2006, said: “He won well at Meydan then had a bad draw in a turf race and was hampered just after the start last time. O Shea added: “Listen, the yard were quietly confident he would run well and I am grateful to connections for the opportunity; these are the spare rides we really like! I was told he has a lot of ability but to keep him out of the kickback, not necessarily to lead. He travelled really strongly and it was only the last 100m he started to tire.”
Over the same 1950m as the Jebel Ali Stakes, the opening handicap may not have been of the same quality as the feature but it produced a tremendous spectacle with four of the nine runners locked in battle with 200m left. O’Shea had led from the outset on Flashy Snapper for Bin Ghadayer, tracked throughout by Pat Dobbs on Tradesman. Meanwhile, settled further back, Bois De Boulogne, a stablemate of Flashy Snapper and Ziani started to make ground halfway up the long straight while at the same time Gavroche was making similar progress widest of all under Fernando Jara. Tradesman was the first to crack,
weakening in the final 100m, at which point the Bin Ghadayer pair looked set to fight out the finish, only for Jara to galvanise Gavroche who led in the dying strides.
Trained by Maria Ritchie for the Al Bait Mutawahed Team, Gavroche was victorious in a handicap over 1800m at the previous Jebel Ali meeting, two weeks ago.
“He stayed on well for me last time when we only led close home,” said Jara. “We were pretty confident the extra 150m would suit him and we have actually only just made it in time. We had a nice low weight today which seems to suit this horse and he tries hard which is always important.”
There was something of a sense of déjà vu after the following 1600m handicap in which the same owner’s Aleko produced a virtual carbon copy of Gavroche’s victory. The main difference was, Aleko is trained by Erwan Charpy and was ridden by Antonio Fresu. They were nearer last than first throughout the first half of the race but started to progress on the outside as the contest unfolded. Up front, Ziani had set sail for home on the Bin Ghadayer-trained Untold Secret but, with 150m to run, they were clearly struggling. Murrayfield threw down a challenge, but as soon as he had the measure of Untold Secret, Aleko swept past them both.
Charpy said: “They went very quick early on and he was then forced very wide on the straight, at which point I was worried but Antonio did not panic and the horse stayed on well.”
Fresu added: “We had a bad draw and were then hampered on the bend but this horse stays further so I knew would run on. The leaders went hard early on so I was quietly confident they would come back to me and we won reasonably comfortably in the end.”
A 1200m conditions race for three-year-olds was dominated from start to finish by Tale Of Fire, making it third time lucky since joining Doug Watson. Winner of his only start in Canada, he had finished well beaten twice over 1400m on the Meydan dirt but the straight track seemed to suit him.
Well away under Pat Dobbs, he had the race in the bag soon after halfway and Watson explained: “He has always trained well but has not performed at Meydan as we had hoped. He has certainly handled conditions well here and we would not be worried about dropping him to 1000m.
“I am delighted for the owner and breeder Charles Fipke as that is our first winner for him.”
A 1400m maiden concluded the action and was won comfortably by Perfect Sense, ridden by Silvestre de Sousa and opening his account at the eighth attempt on his second outing for Ahmad bin Harmash. Previously trained by Saeed bin Suroor for Godolphin, he now carries the colours of Hamdan Al Mansoori.