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Saturday’s meeting at Al Ain Racecourse is highlighted by a 3200m handicap, Round 2 of The Al Ain Marathon Series. This is the final race of seven for which 11 have been declared.
Sheikh Down trained by Eric Lemartinel for HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and winner of this race in 2015 is a key contender, especially after victory in this season’s Round 1, over 2600m, which was his most recent start.
He is the choice of UAE Champion Jockey, Tadhg O’Shea, while owner and trainer are also represented by Meydan Du Paon who has top weight of 60kgs, thus the booking of apprentice Nicolas Barzalona to offset some of the burden.
“Sheikh Down won this race two years ago so obviously stays well and conditions suit him,” said O’Shea. “He has a lovely low racing weight which is important over these trips and he won the first round.
“The horse he beat on that occasion, Aslaan, could be the main danger but our other runner, Maydan Du Paon, is a nice horse. He has a lot of weight though over a trip he has not tried.”
The Aslaan to whom O’Shea refers is trained by Helal Al Alawi for Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and won twice earlier this season before chasing home Sheikh Down in Round 1 on his penultimate start.
He was perhaps a tad disappointing in his one subsequent outing when apprentice ridden and fourth in a 2000m Al Ain handicap but has the assistance of Richard Mullen on this occasion.
“It is a great spare ride and I think he has a nice chance,” said Mullen. “If he stays the trip he should be there or thereabouts with luck.”
Last year’s winner of this race, Dig Dagon, the mount of Sam Hitchcott, is back to defend his crown but has shown very little in any of his three starts since.
This will just be his second start of the season though and his trainer Abdallah Al Hammadi, also saddles Balad Al Reef who will be ridden by Fernando Jara.
The only Thoroughbred race on the card is a handicap over the minimum trip of 1000m and has attracted the maximum field of 15.
O’Shea and Lemartinel again combine, this time with Brazen, twice a 1200m Jebel Ali winner in 2015 but then off the track for over a year and well beaten in four starts so far this season.
“He is going well at home and, hopefully, back near his best,” said O’Shea. “It looks a competitive race but we expect him to run well.”
Now an eleven-year-old, the Satish Seemar-trained Montmorency bounced back to winning ways, over this course and distance, five weeks ago.
That was his first victory since March 2012 but he looks a big danger with Mullen in the saddle.
“He is a grand old horse and it was great to see him win again even though I did not ride him,” said Mullen. “He should run his usual honest race and not be far away.”
Musabbeh Al Mheiri saddles four in the race with jockey bookings suggesting Mooqtar and Jim Crowley, alongside Fernando Jara aboard Maltese Cat, are the yard’s main hopes.