Trainer Ali Rashid Al Raihe was the man to follow on the opening night of the Dubai World Cup Carnival on Thursday, saddling the first three Thoroughbred winners on the Longines-presented card.
In fact the Emirati trainer won every Thoroughbred race in which he saddled a runner.
His evening was highlighted by Le Bernardin who was victorious in the featured 1600m Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1, the third of Al Raihe’s four winners.
Impressive when winning the Listed Dubai Creek Mile three weeks ago, Le Bernardin had to work harder on this occasion but was never far off the speed under Tadhg O’Shea, who enjoyed a treble on the card.
Kicking for home 600m out, Le Bernardin appeared to have his race won comfortably but was noticeably tiring in the final 200m.
“This is my 15th winter in the UAE and a second Group 2 in my career so it is very special,” said O’Shea.
“It was getting a bit close late on because my horse was tiring but fair play to him because he kept on gamely. From a bad draw I probably had to use up more petrol than ideal early on so he has had to dig very deep in the final stages.
“I think we will just keep him fresh and wait for Super Saturday and then, hopefully, the Godolphin Mile.”
The first Thoroughbred race of the Dubai World Cup Carnival, a 1200m dirt handicap, was run at a ferocious pace with Kifaah trying to make all, closely followed by My Catch.
However, they both proved vulnerable to Nawwaar who raced in third most of the way under O’Shea before staying on strongly to snatch the spoils.
The winner, like eventual runner-up Kifaah, is trained by Al Raihe for HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum as were three of the trainer’s four winners.
“They went very quick in front which has helped us as we know he stays further,” said O’Shea. “It is a great result for the yard and, of course, the owner. He did it well in the end and it is great to get a Carnival winner so early on.”
Sheikh Hamdan, Al Raihe and O’Shea later combined to win the concluding 1400m turf handicap with Ghaamer.
The owner’s retained jockey, Paul Hanagan, was aboard Kifaah in the aforementioned 1200m handicap, but was aboard Ertijaal, just over 35 minutes later, who completed a double for owner and trainer when making all in a 1000m handicap, the first Meydan turf race of the season.
Well away, the pair were soon out in front before skipping clear at about halfway after which they were never in danger.
“That is the way he likes to be ridden,” said Hanagan. “He has plenty of speed and seems to be progressive. Dubai World Cup night is a long way off but it would be nice to think he could be a horse for the Al Quoz Sprint.”
The meeting opened with the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge for Purebred Arabians, like the Thoroughbred equivalent over 1600m on the dirt.
It looked competitive on paper but, as it transpired, only two horses were ever seriously involved with Pat Dobbs jumping out in front on Thakif, trained by Nacer Samiri, and they stayed there.
They were stalked throughout by AF Mathmoon who was the only other horse in contention as the runners turned for home.
Trained by Musabah Al Muhairi, AF Mathmoon was having his first start in the colours of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
“He broke almost too well,” said Dobbs of the winner, who broke the course record. “I was travelling strongly throughout and he has just galloped all the way to the line.
“We had a good draw and we were able to utilise it. It is a great start to the Carnival.”
Dobbs was to go on and complete a dirt double, again making all, this time on the Doug Watson-trained One Man Band, who lowered the 1900m track record in a dirt handicap.
Having broken the 1600m Meydan dirt track record on his previous start, his chances appeared obvious but he appeared to win with plenty in hand with matters settled a long way out.
“He is a really nice horse and one we have wanted to step up to this kind of trip,” said Watson. “We will sit down and talk about it but the second leg of the Al Maktoum Challenge would have to be a serious consideration.”
South African trainer, Mike de Kock supplied the first overseas winner, though Star Empire did not necessarily look the strongest of his three runners in the 2000m turf handicap.
However, ridden by Sam Hitchcott and having his first ride for the trainer, he finished fast and late to deny Elleval from Ireland.
“We knew he was in good shape because he had been working well,” said De Kock. “The 3200m Dubai Gold Cup is his main target on Dubai World Cup night but this win gives us a few more things to consider as he has won over such a short trip.”