Ajjaj Shows Staying Prowess, Takes Round 1 of Al Ain Marathon Series

Saturday’s meeting at Al Ain was highlighted by Round 1 of the Al Ain Marathon Series, a handicap over 2600m and which produced a titanic battle between Ajjaj and Shamikh Al Wathba who had the race between themselves throughout the final 200m.

The former, who was under pressure a long way out under Champion Jockey Richard Mullen, just as he had been when winning on this course over 1800m eight days ago, hit the front early in the long straight and soon had most of their seven rivals in trouble.

The main exception was Shamikh Al Wathba who appeared to be travelling much the better under Antonio Fresu and the pair hit the front with just 100m left to run. That produced a telling response from Ajjaj who fought back to regain the initiative and was probably extending the regained lead as they crossed the line for a hard fought victory.

For the winner, it was a third career victory, all at Al Ain having also won a 1400m course maiden in March 2015. Winning trainer, Saifaldin Deeb said: “We were quite hopeful coming here as we thought the longer trip would suit him. He looked in trouble for a moment when passed but has then fought back well and won nicely.”

Mullen, sporting the green and yellow silks of Shaikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, added: “I had to get after him quite a long way out but then he took me to the front nicely. He was probably just getting lonely in front because when the second went past he really fought back well. On this evidence, and that from last week he is going to stay further. He seems to be improving, especially as he steps up in distance.”

The meeting also opened with a Mullen winner when the 2000m maiden was won fairly comprehensively by AF Al Mehleb, trained by Ernst Oertel and finally opening his account at the tenth attempt. Homebred by Champion Owner, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, he and Mullen were never far off the pace and, once the pair hit the way halfway up the long straight, they never looked like being denied.

“I was actually quite hopeful coming into the race which perhaps did not look the strongest,” said Mullen. “They gelded this horse having not shown much last season and his comeback last Sunday was a good one so I hoped he could build on that and he has. We actually travelled pretty well throughout the race and he has stayed this trip well and stamina is probably his forte.”

Determination was then key in the following 2000m handicap in which Bayan proved ultra game under Silvestre De Sousa, leading early in the straight and responding gallantly when challenged by Zahee who looked to be travelling by far the stronger under Tadhg O’Shea.

A first win of the local season for the dual British Champion Jockey who only arrived back in the UAE on Wednesday, Bayan’s victory was a second for himself but, perhaps, more importantly, a first for trainer Mohamed Daggash with his tenth runner in this, his first season with a licence.

An overjoyed trainer enthused: “We have not had many runners and it is, obviously, great to get that first winner. Both horse and jockey have shown a great attitude to land the spoils.”

AF Maher completed a double for the combination of Oertel and Al Nabooda, as well as an independent brace for De Sousa, who drove AF Maher to a reasonably comfortable victory in a 1400m handicap.

Settled just off the pace, he made smooth progress to lead halfway up the long straight before keeping on strongly to record a fourth career success and second on dirt.

Oertel said: “He is a versatile performer and goes equally well on dirt and turf which gives us plenty of options going forward. It was a first run this season for him back on dirt and we will have to go away now and decide where to go next with him.”

De Sousa added: “He was a bit keen early on and wanted to get on with it but, in the closing stages, all he wanted to do was battle so full credit to him.”

Owner and trainer later completed a treble, this time with Paulo Sirigu the man in the saddle aboard AF Meeqat who landed a fiercely contested 1000m handicap.

Always prominent, they hit the front 300m out and ran on strongly with the horse registering a third career victory, his second over this track and trip.

Oertel said: “This horse is all about speed and a real sprinter; he won here over course and distance in March and over 1200m at Sharjah on his first start this season. We will keep him to these sprint trips because they clearly really suit him.”

A 1600m maiden was won smoothly by Mukaram, making it is third time lucky for the ever powerful Al Asayl team, in the colours of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Ridden patiently by Tadhg O’Shea, who was content to bide his time and settle his mount in rear, Mukaram, among the tail of the field entering the straight, suddenly appeared on the heels of the leaders before hitting the front, still going well, 300m from home.

The race basically was over and winning trainer, Eric Lemartinel, said: “He is a young horse who is improving and had not raced before this season. He has progressed with each run and hopefully can continue to do so.”

There was only one Thoroughbred race on the card, a 1000m handicap, and it produced a thrilling finish with Alraased, Iftitah and Anbar flashing across the line together. The verdict went to the first named, trained by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi for HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum and, literally, only ahead in the dying strides.

It was a fourth career and second local victory for the sprinter, actually running over this minimum trip for the first time and recipient of a powerful ride from the owner’s retained jockey, Dane O’Neill, who said: “It was very tight but I did actually think I had won as I was able to look across on the line and we had just hit the post at the right time. He is a real, genuine and consistent horse who just tries his best all the time so it is nice for him, the yard and all the connections to see him win again.”