RB Torch Lights Up Abu Dhabi

The second meeting of the new UAE season was on the Abu Dhabi turf on Friday, highlighted by the inaugural running of the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown Prep, a rated conditions contest over the same 1600m as the AED 5 million big race itself, and won by RB Torch who was chased home by stable companion Darius Du Paon.

The pair, both trained at Al Asayl by Eric Lemartinel for His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, were settled in midfield in a race contested at a very strong pace set by Es Ajeeb who remained in front until 200m from home when RB Torch, who challenged between rivals, hit the front under champion jockey Tadhg O’Shea for whom he was a first winner of the season.

Meanwhile, Jose Santiago had elected to challenge on the far rail aboard Darius Du Paon who met some traffic problems before running on strongly, but never looking likely to catch the winner.

“They went very fast which really suits this horse who I know well and have enjoyed a lot of success on,” O’Shea registering a sixth victory on the horse, said.

“When he was a 3-year-old we really thought he would go right to the top, but Eric and his team seem to have found the key to him now and he seems best when not racing too regularly.

“There is just over a month until the Jewel Crown itself which should be ideal and I am delighted to get my first winner of the season here in Abu Dhabi.”

Lemartinel added: “This is a much needed prep race because in the past there was not one and we were running in the Jewel Crown on seasonal debut which was not ideal.”

The longest race on the card, a 2200m handicap, provided a thrilling finish with half of the 14 runners holding every chance in the closing stages where the lead appeared to change hands on four occasions.

Inthar entered the final 100m with a narrow advantage, but was challenged from all angles with Syed and RB Grynade, the eventual second, looming as big dangers, but, widest of all, Richard Mullen produced Saarookh to lead virtually on the line.

Sporting the colours of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Mullen could not have timed his challenge any better on the 4-year-old who entered the starting stalls as a maiden after four starts.

It was also a first UAE winner, at the very first attempt, for Brazilian trainer Ana Mendez and Mullen said: “The horse has really finished the race off nicely and stayed the trip well. Sheikh Mansour has a lot of nice horses and it is a privilege to wear these colours.

“Full credit to the trainer and her team for having him fit and ready first time out.”

The opening 1400m maiden, restricted to 3-year-olds foaled in the UAE, attracted the maximum allowed field of 16, all making their debut and won snugly by Alnawr who caught Darya close home with the latter having appeared the likely winner when sweeping to the front early in the straight. The first pair were among five fillies who contested the race.

Nearer last than first at halfway under Connor Beasley, sporting the silks of Ali Haddad, the winner started to creep closer on the home turn before, once pulled out and in the clear, finishing strongly to provide trainer Helal Al Alawi his first winner of the new campaign and Beasley a third after a Meydan double on Thursday.

“We were quite hopeful coming here this evening as she has shown ability at home,” Al Alawi said. “It is always nice to get that first winner on the board and hopefully plenty more can follow throughout the season.

Beasley and Al Alawi looked likely to record a quick double when their Bolereau hit the front with only about 75m remaining in the following 1400m maiden only to be pounced on by Noel Garbutt and Raniah, who passed most of her 15 rivals in the second half of the race, to open her account at the fifth attempt.

A 4-year-old, the winning filly is one of the few horses in training owned by Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda that is not a homebred and, like the majority of the reigning champion owner’s horses, is trained by champion trainer Ernst Oertel.

Racing over the shortest distance she had tackled, having finished second over 1600m on her one previous turf start, as well as twice finishing third, including over 1800m, she appeared to need every part of the 1400m.

Garbutt, back in the UAE after missing the last four seasons, was delighted and said: “I have to thank connections for the opportunity and she has done that well enough in the end.

“She had form over further, so I was confident she would be staying on and she picked up nicely in the straight.”

A 1600m handicap limited to horses foaled in the UAE and in private ownership went to MH Wari, just a third runner of the new campaign for Elise Jeanne and a first winner this season for both her and jockey Antonio Fresu who was happy to take his time in the middle of the pack behind a fast early pace.

As those forcing that speed started to drop away, Fresu, who had been creeping closer in the middle stage of the race, committed for home halfway up the straight and found a willing partner, a 6-year-old shedding his maiden tag at the sixth attempt for owner and breeder Mansoor Khalifa Sultan bin Habtoor.

Jeanne said: “This is an inexperienced horse, so we are very pleased with that and it was a very good ride from Antonio who managed to avoid any trouble.

Trainer Salem bin Ghadayer and jockey Royston Ffrench then opened their accounts for the campaign with the smooth success of Mailshot in the concluding 1600m handicap, the only Thoroughbred race on the card,

Another winner to come from well off the pace, the 5-year-old gelded son of Hard Spun, racing in the colours of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, was switched wide on entering the straight before careering home, leaving his 15 rivals in the wake once in front just under 100m out.

It was a seventh career victory for the horse and third in the UAE, but first since the beginning of March 2018 when successful over 1600m at Meydan under Mickael Barzalona.

Ffrench said: “He has enjoyed the strong pace to aim at and, once I was in the clear he has quickened well and won nicely. Hopefully that will do his confidence a lot of good because he is a nice horse.”