Friday Feature: Al Ain Marathon Series Round 2

Racing at Al Ain on Friday is highlighted by Round 2 of the Al Ain Marathon Series, a 3200m handicap for which seven have been declared, including two previous winners of the stamina sapping contest and the first three home from last year’s renewal.

Twelve months ago it was Abdallah Al Hammadi, who had won the race in 2016 with Dig Dagon, who saddled Balad Al Reef to emulate his stable companion before he followed up in the third round, the 4100m Al Ain Stayers Trophy and then again in the 5100m Final Leg of the Al Ain Marathon Series. Fernando Jara was in the saddle on each occasion, as he was for Balad Al Reef’s one outing this season, when finishing a well beaten fourth in an Al Ain handicap over a seemingly insufficient stamina test of 2600m.

Jara rides again and said: “We all know these staying races really suit him and the marathon series contests were his obvious targets again. He was staying on last time, as you would expect, and will have benefitted from the run. The extra 500 is certainly in his favour and he should run well.”

Chasing him home last year was Sheikh Down, winner of this race in 2015 for His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Eric Lemartinel. He too is obviously a proven stayer but, on this occasion, is ridden by Jesus Rosales having been overlooked by Tadhg O’Shea in favour of RB Rich Surprise, third in the 2016 running of this race.

O’Shea said: “It was not an easy choice. It never is, but at the weights, RB Rich Surprise appears to hold the stronger claims. Both are in good form at home and should run well. It may be a small field, but it looks very competitive nonetheless.”

In third 12 months ago was Aslaan, trained by Helal Al Alawi for Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. He finished tailed-off on his one outing this season in December, but that was over just 1900m at Meydan and the return to a marathon trip and Al Ain should suit him. Pat Cosgrave rides.

Champion Jockey, Richard Mullen, could have ridden Aslaan but has opted to partner Shamikh Al Wathba, trained on the Al Ain track by Jean de Roualle for Yas Horse Racing Management. This will be the longest trip over which he has raced but he was second over 2700m in last year’s Sharjah Marathon and denied by just a short-head in the same 2600m Al Ain contest in which Balad Al Reef was well beaten in December.

Mullen said: “He has only had six races in his life and is, we think, a young and progressive horse who is only going to improve with age and experience. Hopefully the trip will suit him and we have to be hopeful of a big run.”

Meanwhile, the only Thoroughbred race is ‘a dash’; a 1000m handicap for which the maximum field allowed, 15, will face the starter.

Representing champion trainer Doug Watson is Paranormal, the mount of stable jockey Pat Dobbs. Paranormal’s solitary career success was achieved over 1200m at Sharjah where, like Al Ain, the sprint track is a straight. His only previous attempt at the minimum trip, also at Sharjah, was on his seasonal debut when staying on strongly to finish second behind 1000m specialist War Spirit.

He looks to have a lot in his favour and Watson said: “We expect him to run well and he should be staying on strongly over that 1000m trip. He is in good form at home, so hopefully he will at least go close.”

Adrie De Vries is aboard Iftitah, owned and trained by Fawzi Nass. The pair were third in a three-way photo-finish in a course and distance handicap, his local debut. In that effort, he finished a head behind the re-opposing Anbar, owned and trained by Rashed Bouresly. Both should be thereabouts again in a competitive heat.