With the new UAE racing season now in full swing, the action returned to Meydan Racecourse on Thursday evening with a cracking seven race card, highlighted by the 2000m Emirates Airline Handicap won for the second year running by Etijaah.
One of four in the race for UAE Champion Trainer, Doug Watson, he was always well positioned just behind the early speed under Dane O’Neill, riding for his main employer, HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
In what had appeared a competitive contest on paper, very few actually managed to get involved in the action and, with Watson’s Zain Eagle, the early leader, weakening on the turn for home it was Handsome Man who led the early charge for the line.
However, O’Neill was travelling ominously well just in behind and when asked for his effort, Etijaah quickened nicely to put the race to bed in a matter of strides.
Handsome Man held on for second from Interpret who made up a lot of ground in the second half of the race but never threatened.
“We thought we had him as straight as we could for this first run back,” said Watson. “We know he goes well fresh so we came here full of hope and Dane gave him a great ride.
“We will probably look for something with him in December and, hopefully, he will be able to get a run in a race at the Dubai World Cup Carnival next year.”
There was something of an air of déjà vu in the following the 1200m emirates.com Handicap with Ajraam also repeating his victory of 12 months earlier in the same race.
Trained by Musabbeh Al Mheiri, he stayed on resolutely to grind down Mutahaddith, who had skipped clear at the top of the straight, and then had enough left to hold the final thrust of Speedy Move.
So close was it at the line, winning jockey, Fernando Jara was seen to congratulate Richard Mullen, the man aboard Speedy Move.
“I actually thought we had been caught,” said Jara after surviving the photo finish. “Luckily for me my horse is very brave and has just held on.
“We thought he would run well as his work at home had been good.”
It was actually a third winner on the night for the owner after his Don’t Lie Kitten won the opener, the1400m Emirates Holidays juvenile maiden.
Seven went to post but the field was immediately reduced to six with Al Zeem failing to exit the stalls as they opened under O’Neill.
He was one of three in the race trained by Ahmad bin Harmash for Sheikh Hamdan and the owner-trainer duo were not to be denied with Xavier Ziani, wearing a red distinguishing cap, successful aboard the winner.
A daughter of Kitten’s Joy, she was one of three fillies in the contest and making a winning debut, showing a resolute attitude.
Ziani said: “That was a nice surprise and she has clearly improved a lot from her outing in a trial recently. It is a great start to my Meydan season.”
Less of a surprise was the victory of Long Water in the following Emirates SkyCargo handicap over 1400m, providing trainer Helal Al Alawi with a first Thoroughbred winner in the process.
The trainer has had very few Thoroughbred runners but operates an expanding operation and Long Water had finished second at Jebel Ali just last Friday.
Royston Ffrench was in the saddle on both occasion and Al Alawi said: “I only had my first Thoroughbred runners last season and it is great to have the first winner. We actually thought he would win at Jebel Ali last week and hopefully we can have another good season.”
Ffrench wasted no time completing a double, leading virtually every step of the way in a second Arabian Adventures 1400m Maiden, open to the older horses as well as juveniles, on local debutant, Criminalistic, for Salem bin Ghadayer.
Drawn in four, Ffrench was able to secure the favoured rail berth but was constantly hassled for the lead throughout the first half of the race.
However, he kicked for home entering the straight and his willing companion quickly opened up an unassailable lead.
“I had a good draw which I wanted to utilise so was always going to be positive,” said Ffrench. “He quickened well to win his race but this 1400m is probably as far as he would want at this stage of his career.”
The first of two 1600m handicaps was run at a furious gallop with several keen to lead and, as a result, doing one another no favours.
Meanwhile, Adrie De Vries was content to sit in behind the leaders, on the rail, aboard Stormardal who was the main beneficiary of the early pace battle, with all the leaders bar Philosopher, tiring early in the straight.
Philosopher kept going but he too cried enough about 200m from home when De Vries and Stormardal swept past and clear to win easily for Ismail Mohammed.
A tiring Philosopher lost second close home to Nathr but Stormardal was well clear with De Vries able to ease down close home.
“I had a nice draw in one,” said De Vries. “They went pretty quick and I was always happy in behind the speed. This horse loves the dirt and, importantly, does not mind the kickback so I could stay on the inside.
“A gap opened when I needed it and he quickened well to win nicely.”
Satish Seemar finally found himself in the winner’s circle after his Mister Parma won well in his second consecutive race at Meydan in the closing 1600m Emirates Skywards Handicap under stable jockey Richard Mullen.