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Sheikh Down and Balad Al Reef Battle for Lead in Al Ain Marathon Series

Friday’s feature race at Al Ain Racecourse is the The Al Ain Stayers’ Trophy, a handicap over 4100m. The seven race card is wholly sponsored by Shadwell, the breeding empire of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

This is the third round of The Al Ain Marathon Series and has attracted a field of nine, including the winners of both the first two rounds, Sheikh Down and Balad Al Reef.

The former, trained by Eric Lemartinel at the Al Asayl Stables of HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, won the opening round, over 2600m, when Balad Al Reef was third and will again be ridden by Champion Jockey, Tadhg O’Shea.

“Conditions are certainly not a problem,” said O’Shea. “He loves the Al Ain surface and stays really well. He may be eight years old now but he still thinks he is a youngster and is full of himself.”

Balad Al Reef who is trained by Abdallah Al Hammadi gained his revenge in the second round, over 3200m and can also boast a 5100m victory over Sheikh Down in the final round of last year’s series in March. Fernando Jara, aboard for both those victories, is again in the saddle.

“All this horse does is stay,” said Jara. “The further the race the better it seems to suit him so we have to be hopeful of a big run.”

O’Shea rides El Salaam, owned by Sheikh Hamdan and trained by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi, in a 1600m handicap which, arguably, appears the most competitive race on the card.

Winner of the equivalent race last year, he has been second or third in his three course and distance outings since and looks certain to be thereabouts again.

“He has been working well and is very consistent,” said O’Shea. “He will not be far away but it looks another tough race.”

On his most recent outing, El Salaam was fourth at Abu Dhabi behind Cheik Roque, trained by Erwan Charpy and back in opposition in what will be just his second dirt outing.

Well beaten on his first try on the surface, at Al Ain but over 2000m, it looks significant Charpy is taking him back to Al Ain and the shorter trip could prove the key.

Before that, El Salaam was third, over Friday’s course and distance, behind RB Goliath, also in the field again and seeking a fourth course victory for Helal Al Alawi. Royston French takes the ride and they look to hold serious claims.

With O’Shea claimed by Al Rayhi, Gerald Avranche rides Meydan Du Paon for Sheikh Khalifa and Lemartinel. His sole victory, in eight outings, was a course and distance maiden at the end of January last year.