Eric Lemartinel Saddles Three in Al Ain Season Opener Feature

Al Ain Racecourse becomes the fifth and final of the UAE tracks to begin their season with a seven race card on Friday afternoon, highlighted by a 1600m handicap in which Eric Lemartinel saddles half of the six runners.

The trio, all owned by HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, include Hamza, winner of the race last year under Jesus Rosales who is again in the saddle.

Stable jockey Tadhg O’Shea, is aboard RB Rich Surprise while Royston Ffrench can be seen partnering Tahany.

Hamza also won two of his subsequent outings last season, ridden by O’Shea on both occasions, including the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Gold Cup, a 1600m Prestige contest on the turf in the capital.

The only filly among the sextet, Tahany, has only run once on dirt, when third in a course and distance maiden on her local debut, just over a year ago.

She then achieved her sole career victory, in a 1600m Abu Dhabi maiden and was far from disgraced in four subsequent starts, all in stronger company.

However, it is RB Rich Surprise, four times an Al Ain winner, twice over this 1600m, who received the vote from O’Shea.

“It was a very hard choice indeed,” reflected O’Shea. “I would not be surprised if any of the three were to win and Eric and his Al Asayl team certainly have a very strong hand.

“However, RB Rich Surprise was just in front of Hamza in the Al Ain Mile last year and is slightly better off at the weights so that probably finally swayed my decision, though Tahany has only had the one start on dirt.

“She is probably improving but has not had the benefit of a run this season whereas the other pair have,” he concluded.

Of the other three in the race, only Sedan has run locally, well beaten at Abu Dhabi on what was his turf debut. Trained by Jaci Wickham, he has won four of his nine dirt outings and should relish the switch to Al Ain.

Helal Al Alawi and Pat Cosgrave have enjoyed a fruitful association during the early part of the campaign and combine with Djomander Mamoora, victorious six times in nine outings, all on dirt, while the field is completed by Saintloup.

Trained by Ernst Oertel, he is the mount of Champion Jockey, Richard Mullen who will be sporting the silks of Champion Owner, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda.

There may only be six runners but it looks a fascinating contest.

The sole Thoroughbred race on the card is a 2000m maiden which has attracted the maximum field of 15.

Mullen partners Dawwass, the highest rated of those in the field with an official rating, for his main employer Satish Seemar.

He has to be respected in a weak race in which Ahmad bin Harmash saddles three with stable jockey, Colm O’Donoghue, partnering Forever Song.

This will be just his fourth career start but he failed to beat a rival, at Meydan, on his recent local dirt and stable debut so stable companion Al Madam, could be the trainer’s best hope.

One of two three-year-old fillies in the field to be saddled by Bin Harmash for HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, she has at least earned prize money in four of her six outings.

Paolo Sirigu, in the saddle on her three most recent outings, maintains the partnership.

Ali Rashid Al Rayhi also has three runners in the race with stable jockey, O’Shea, opting for Quartier Francais, well beaten on his one previous outing, at Meydan a fortnight ago.

“He needed that debut experience quite badly and has definitely improved for it,” said O’Shea. “He should be a lot wiser this time and, hopefully, can give a good account of himself in what does not appear a great race.”