31 January 2020, Al Ain, UAE ~ A seven-race card at Al Ain on Friday, 31 January 2020, was highlighted by the First Leg of the Al Ain Marathon Series, a 3200m handicap. Despite the extreme distance, the first three home were separated by just a fraction more than a length, with Sufyan (Munjiz) clinging on by a fast diminishing head under Antonio Fresu to deny Hareer Al Reef closing relentlessly in the final 100m.
Completing doubles for the jockey, trainer Ana Mendez and owner Al Wathba Racing, Fresu’s mount led for the first 1200m before surrendering the initiative to Richard Mullen aboard the same owner’s Ajjaj, attempting to concede weight to his 12 rivals but appearing to be traveling much the best of the pair.
Fresu was niggling at his mount fully 1600m out, but found a willing partner as they harassed Mullen’s mount throughout the entirety of the straight before regaining the advantage with less than 200m to run. It was then Pat Cosgrave conjured a flying finish from Hareer Al Reef, but the winning line was reached a second too soon for them. For Sufyan, it was a second career victory on his eighth start and a record for this track run of 03:48:27. (Hareer Al Reef won in 2019 in 03:50:57).
“That was quite work but full credit to the horse, who kept responding every time I asked him for extra effort,” Fresu said. “It was a 1000m further than he has ever run and against proven stayers, but he saw it out well and showed a really gutsy attitude.”
The opening 1400m handicap, restricted to horses in private ownership, had looked competitive on paper but that could not have been further from the truth as it transpired with only one horse, AF Ramz (AL KESBE), really counting. Sent straight to the head of affairs by apprentice Sean Kirrane, initially stalked by AF Rawiah, Najem Al Rwasi and AF Meghwaar, it was clear at halfway he had the measure of that Shortly afterwards, it was apparent there would be no other challenge from the pack. The 6-year-old, one of three sharing the burden of top weight, shot clear and was never in any danger of being caught, doubling his career tally in the process having won a course and distance maiden in November 2018 when trained by Ahemd Al Shemail. He is now in the care of Khalifa Al Neyadi and has also changed owner with Kirrane sporting the silks of Mohd Salem Ali Alafreet.
“We have kept him busy this season and that was his seventh run of the campaign,” Al Neyadi said. “He does seem to seem to save his best efforts for dirt and he clearly likes it here at Al Ain.”
It was a similar story in the only Thoroughbred race on the card, a 1600m handicap that followed and in which Royston Ffrench rousted Rich and Famous to lead after a handful of strides and the pair were never headed despite the efforts of Dubawi’s Thunder, pretty much second throughout, but unable to sustain his challenge in the final 300m but a clear runner-up. Saddled by Salem bin Ghaadyer for Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, the 6-year-old homebred Bernardini gelding was registering a third career success, but first locally after 11 previous attempts, adding to a pair of 1200m victories in Britain when trained by Mark Johnston, most recently in April 2017.
A 1600m maiden restricted to fillies and mares foaled in the UAE was another race dominated by those who raced prominently only on this occasion long-time leader Shammarah and Connor Beasley were unable to withstand the determined challenge of Marzaga (Bibi De Carrere). Content to take a lead from Beasley’s mount, Richard Mullen asked the 4-year-old filly to challenge early in the straight, but it was only with just shy of 300m remaining they hit the front. Shammarah fought back but could not regain the initiative. It was a seventh career start for Al Wathba Racing’s winner, fourth in the UAE and this season for Ana Mendez who now has nine winners in her maiden season with a training license.
Mullen said: “She was not beaten far last time, over 1800m, so I was happy to be positive knowing she stays well and she has shown a very good attitude to win her race gamely because the runner-up was brave and hard to pass.”
Positive tactics were again rewarded in the 2000m handicap, this time Antonio Fresu making all aboard Prado Du Panjshir (Prado), one of a handful of Purebred Arabians in the capable hands of his main local employer, Musabbeh Al Mheiri. Owned by Nasir Askar, the 6-year-old gelding is now the winner of three races from ten starts and was scoring for the second time on dirt, both victories at Al Ain, he and Fresu having landed a handicap over 1800m on his penultimate start.
Assistant trainer, Maria Ritchie said: “He is a fun horse to have in the yard and that is three wins this season for him. I imagine we will try and find another suitable race for him here because he does seem to like Al Ain.”
The sprinters had their minute under the floodlights in a 1000m handicap in which course specialist Jayide Al Boraq (Burning Sand) registered his fourth Al Ain victory, on just his sixth outing, all bar one which have been on this course, his previous outing, 40 days ago, having produced a close second over 1400m on the Abu Dhabi turf. Owned by Al Rahmani Racing, he was completing doubles for Al Neyadi and Kirrane, in the process denying Jim Crowley a victory on his only ride on the card aboard Ainhoa Topchef, owned by his main employer HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum and trained by Erwan Charpy. A 6-year-old, Jayide Al Boraq has now won twice over this 1000m course and distance, as well as over 1400m and 1600m at what is clearly his favourite track.
Al Neyadi said: “He seems to be improving and has shown he has plenty of speed for this kind of test but stays further. He obviously seems to like it here at Al Ainand we have had a good afternoon.”
Settled in the middle of the main bunch of runners, after a tardy start, by Elione Chave, Dagui Lotois looked destined to record a smooth victory in a maiden over 1800m when swooping to the front and past Djamer KB about 400m from home, but Chaves was forced to keep his mount honest with that rival trying his best to get back on top but ultimately failing. The winner, a 4-year-old colt prepared by Ahmed Al Mehairbi for Al Rahman Racing, was shedding his maiden tag at the ninth attempt but just third in the UAE and on his dirt debut.
Al Mehairbi said: “This is a nice horse. We ran him in a Listed race first time and then he was not beaten far in a handicap when he was finishing well over 1600m so we thought the extra 200m would suit him.”