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O`Shea Drives Sheikh Down to Lead Al Asayl 1-2-3 in Al Ain Marathon

Photo: Erika Rasmussen (www.erikarphotography.com)

HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan`s Yard in Treble Form

The second leg of the Al Ain Marathon Series, a 3200m conditions contest, was the highlight at Al Ain on Friday evening and produced a thrilling finish with Al Asayl stable companions Sheikh Down, Burj Khalifa and Munzade crossing the line together in a photo.

It was Sheikh Down, the choice of Tadhg O’Shea who prevailed, leading on the line to deny the gallant Burj Khalifa who had tried to make all under Royston French.

With the crowd on their feet, O’Shea’s mount received a tremendous ovation and was one of three winners on the card for the Champion Jockey, trainer Salem Al Ketbi and owner HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

“I thought I was in trouble at one stage said,” O’Shea. “You just never know if they will stay these marathon trips and he ran on really strongly at the end. It has been a great day.”

Earlier, the opening 2000m handicap was won comfortably by Rabdan, initiating the trebles for connections. A course and distance winner three weeks earlier, he was ridden confidently by the Champion Jockey who was content to bide his time in the middle of the field.

He pulled his mount out wider at the top of the straight before driving him to the front 200m from home.

“He is a young horse and progressive,” said O’Shea. “This was only his fifth start and he did it nicely but is still learning.”

The jockey was expressing similar sentiments after winning a 1400m maiden aboard Razeen.

The pair looked set to win comfortably 300m from the line, only to be made to work hard with several challengers closing. However, once O’Shea asked for maximum effort his mount pulled clear.

“That was only his fifth outing,” said O’Shea. “He will improve.”

The main support race, a 1000m handicap and second leg of the Al Ain Sprint Series was won by apprentice, George Buckell aboard Safina Ghantoot, denying TM Junior Johnson a second consecutive course and distance victory.

Buckell was sat motionless most of the way, having taken his mount to the far side of the field behind a fast and furious pace.

TM Junior Johnson led 300m from home but could not repel the late challenge of Buckell and the Helal Al Alawi-trained winner.

“I was always going very strongly, said Buckell and that fast gallop really suited him. It was a good race and a nice performance."

The only Thoroughbred race on the card, an 1800m handicap, was turned into a procession by Etijaah, carrying he second colours of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum for whom he was a 700th UAE winner as an owner.

Trained by Doug Watson, he was ridden by Dane O’Neill with the pair crossing the line more than 18 lengths clear.

“He has done that very easily,” said O’Neill. “I was happy tracking the pace and knew I had a lot of horse under me. I probably did not want to win by quite so far and it is great for Sheikh Hamdan.”

O’Neill wasted no time in completing a rapid double but in totally different circumstances, landing the following 1600m conditions contest on NS Shamikh for trainer Ahmed Al Mehairbi.

The pair only led in the final stride to deny Ahmadani who had tried to make all under George Buckell, only to be denied right on the line.

“It was a close call,” said O’Neill. “I thought we just made it and luckily we did. Fair play to the horse, he has dug deep for me.”