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Watson Makes Winning Start to New Meydan Campaign

Etijaah wins the feature
Photo: Erika Rasmussen (www.erikarphotography.com)

UAE Champion Owner Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Claims Three

Meydan Racecourse opened its gates for the first time this season on Thursday evening and trainer Doug Watson continued his flying start to the new campaign at a meeting fittingly sponsored by Emirates.

He saddled a double at Jebel Ali last Friday and Watson’s purple patch continued apace, landing another two races, including the night’s feature, a 2000m handicap, with Etijaah who was able to take full advantage of the weight he received from his eight rivals.

Settled well off the frantic early pace by Sam Hitchcott, Etijaah eased into contention early in the straight before hitting the front in the final 200m to win going away.

Vastly improved last season, when winning over the same course and distance as well as a victory at Al Ain, it would appear Watson’s charge remains on an upward curve.

“Hopefully he is still improving with his racing,” said Watson. “These conditions really suit him and with such a light weight we were hopeful of a big run from him.

“Sam deserves a lot of credit because they went very quick up front and he was happy to just take his time.

“We will try and find a similar race for him and hopefully there is more to come.”

Etijaah is owned by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Watson immediately supplied the UAE’s leading domestic owner with another winner when Nathr routed his opposition in a 1600m handicap.

With Dane O’Neill riding for his main employer, Nathr was always travelling like the winner and his jockey barely moved a muscle throughout the contest.

It was an emphatic success for the four-year-old, having his third start in the UAE and doubling his career tally after a sole success in England.

“We thought he was capable of something like that,” said Watson. “It was a weak race but he did it very well and we hope he could be a lot better than this.”

After a rare blank at Jebel Ali last Friday, Champion Trainer Musabah Al Muhairi opened his account for the new campaign when Ajraam posted a reasonably comfortable success in a 1200m handicap.

In doing so, he initiated a treble for Sheikh Hamdan and double for O’Neill, while Ajraam was recording a third career victory and first in the UAE.

Winner of both his first two starts in the UK, this was his tenth start locally and a first success since June 2013.

“I was always happy in the race,” said O’Neill. “It always felt as though we had things under control and when I pressed the button he picked up nicely.”

The first race of the new Meydan season, a 1400m maiden, was turned into a procession by Prepared, trained by Ali Rashid Al Raihe for owner Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, who also provided the runner-up, Sky Jockey.

Tadhg O’Shea rode the winner and, once recovering from a slightly tardy start, always looked supremely confident on the winner, stalking the pace before committing for home at the top of the straight.

The pair soon put daylight between themselves and the rest.

“He is a nice horse with plenty of ability,” explained O’Shea. “This was only his seventh career start and he has endured more than his fair share of problems so this will, hopefully, do his confidence the power of good.

“He is not the best at the gates and was a bit slow into stride but it was only a maiden and we were soon on terms.

“It is obviously the perfect start to my Meydan season.”

The finale, a second 1600m handicap, was won by Street Act, produced to deny stable companion, Beachy Head in the dying strides and complete a double for Al Raihe and O’Shea.

Street Act won the 1400m handicap on the card last year, having been second in the first race of the season at Jebel Ali, just as he was again last week.

Twelve months ago Cross Grain won the 1400m maiden for Satish Seemar and Richard Mullen on this card and they won again, for the first time since, in a handicap over the same course and distance.

Drawn widest of all in 11, UAE Champion Jockey, Mullen, was content to bide his time in the middle of the field, on the outside of the pack, before closing on the final bend.

Asked for an effort, Cross Grain picked up well to post an impressive victory and could be a horse to follow this season.

“He is a horse we have always liked,” said Mullen. “He did not really build on his win here last year but only had two more outings and perhaps we backed him up a bit quick.

“The wide draw was not a worry as he travels strongly and has a powerful stride so I would not have wanted to be on the inside anyway.

“We will space his races out this season and hopefully he can improve from this.”

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