Round 1 of the Al Ain Marathon Series, a 3200m Purebred Arabian handicap, is the official feature at Al Ain on Friday. Last season’s winner, Shamikh Al Wathba, will be among the 15 declared runners. Formerly a 2600m handicap staged in December, as it was when Shamikh Al Wathba landed it last season, the race is staged over an extra 600m this year, but that should not inconvenience the defending champion, a winner over 3200m in Round 2 of the Al Ain Marathon Series. Trained by Jean de Roualle for Yas Horse Racing Management, the 7-year-old also contested the third round of the series, over 4100m, and final leg, over 5100, finishing second and third respectively behind stable companion Ajjaj.
Richard Mullen, aboard when he won round two and when beaten twice by Ajjaj, is again in the saddle and said: “He stays well and is proven under conditions which is always a big thing. He has not run since March, so should improve for the outing, but in a competitive race, he should be thereabouts.”
When winning round two over Friday’s course and distance exactly a year ago, Mullen’s mount was chased home by Bayan, again in opposition for Ridha ben Attia. Ridden then by Connor Beasley, Sam Hitchcott takes over in the saddle. Beasley rides Hamares, one of two in the race trained by Helal Al Alawi for Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan with stable jockey, William Lee, opting to partner Aslaan. Lee’s mount won three times in 2016 over shorter trips and has not visited the winner’s enclosure since landing the Al Ain Mile (PA Prestige) in March 2017.
The Abdallah Al Hammadi horses have been in good form recently and he saddles two, including Balad Al Reef, to be partnered by Gerald Avranche and an Al Ain Marathon Series regular. Victorious in the 5100m Final Leg of the Al Ain Marathon Series (PA Prestige) in 2016, he followed up in that race one year (in 2017) later having already won the second round over 3200m and the 4100m round three. However, last season (in 2018), he was only third in the opening two rounds before finishing fourth in the final pair. Something of an unknown is Lou Raynal, who looked very good when making a winning local debut over much shorter and must step up considerably in distance.
The only Thoroughbred event on the seven-race card is a 2000m handicap, which looks certain to be fiercely contested with the maximum allowed field of 15 set to face the starter and four reserves standing by, if needed. Satish Seemar saddles two, with Mullen opting to ride Press Room, who is receiving weight from all bar one of his 14 rivals, sharing bottom weight with Fortune Writer for the Al Alawi/Lee combination.
Jim Crowley only has one booked ride on the card and, for his main employer His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, partners Thaaqib. Trained by Erwan Charpy, the 5-year-old Invincible Spirit gelding has just one career victory to his name, over the all-weather at Chelmsford when in the care of Charlie Hills. This will be his sixth start this season, the best of which was when third to Hello over 1800m at Jebel Ali in the middle of November and three starts ago. Saddled by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi for Mohd Khalifa Al Nabooda, Hello was recording a second consecutive Jebel Ali success, having won three weeks earlier over 1950m, but has been twice well beaten at the same course since.
In a wide open contest, Seemar’s Piepowder Court, the mount of Tadhg O’Shea, Initial, for Musabbeh Al Mheiri and Ben Curtis, along with Mandolin Lullaby, trained by Sandeep Jadhav and to be ridden by Royston Ffrench, are just three others to consider.