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Al Ain Season Opens on New Dirt Track Friday

Track Expecting ‘Great Day’ After Installation of Floodlights and Big Screen

Al Ain Racecourse stages its first meeting of the new season on Friday and, as was the case at Meydan on Thursday, they are racing on a new dirt surface.

“After listening to feedback from jockeys and trainers last season we decided to change surface,” explained Al Ain Racing Manager, Neil Abrahams. “We had trials on it last week and the jockeys really liked it. It is very similar to the surface at Santa Anita with minimal kickback.

“We are really excited about the new season and have also introduced a big screen to make viewing easier. It is a great new addition for the course and we are expecting a great day on Friday when we have a new late start time of 5pm and the floodlights will be utilised for the first time on a raceday.”

The feature race is a 1400m conditions event for Purebred Arabians and six are set to go to post. The weights are headed by RB Smokin Rich, trained by Ernst Oertel and the mount of Tadhg O’Shea, Champion Trainer and Jockey respectively.

This will only be a fifth career start for the colt who won two of his four outings last season, all on the Abu Dhabi turf and he looks the one to beat if he can adapt to the surface.

“He works well on dirt at home so the surface should be fine” said O’Shea. “He was progressing all the time last season and seems quicker this time round. He won over 1600m last year as well as Friday’s 1400m but I would actually not be surprised if he develops into a very useful sprinter at 1200m – maybe even 1000m. He has a lot of toe.

“We expect him to go very close.”

Stable companion TM Junior Johnson could be the main danger. He returns to dirt, a surface on which he impressed in his native USA, after a disappointing UAE career to date. His past dirt form saw him win five of his six starts, including in Group 2 company.

So highly regarded was he that he made his UAE debut in the 2013 Kahayla Classic and connections will be hoping he can bounce back to form under apprentice, Daniel Muscutt.

If the Oertel pair fail to fire, the Musabah Al Muhairi-trained Zaffaan could be the one to benefit as he receives weight from his five rivals. A winner on the dirt at Sharjah, the surface should suit him and he looks capable of progressing this season with Dane O’Neill riding for his main employer, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Of the remainder, both Knife, who is likely to ensure a good gallop, and Najem S’Heel are proven dirt performers so, for such a small field, it looks an intriguing race.

The only Thoroughbred race on the card is the opening 1800m maiden with 15 declared as they seek to open their seasonal accounts. Lord Empire represents the Oertel and O’Shea partnership and looks interesting on his local debut after just three runs in England.

The same applies to Entrenched, also making his local debut on his fourth start and first for Doug Watson. Pat Dobbs takes the ride.

Of those with local form, Respect Me under Wayne Smith for Ismail Mohammed and Earth Tour, trained by Satish Seemar and ridden by Richard Mullen, appear to have the best credentials.