Watson Sweeps Meydan Co-Features

Racing at Meydan on Thursday was highlighted by a quality 1600m handicap, the CNN Travel, in which Doug Watson-trained Thegreatcollection, despite conceding weight to his 10 rivals, was able to take full advantage of a drop in class to win easily. One race earlier, the defending UAE champion trainer won the other co-feature in impressive fashion with Lytham St Annes.

Sporting considerable back-class, the former tracked the early pace under Sam Hitchott in the colours of Zaur Sekrekov before overpowering his rivals in the final 600m, making up for a fourth-place finish two weeks prior to African Ride. Prior to that, on both his previous outings, he chased home Super Saturday’s Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R3 winner Capezzano over this track and trip. The former U.S. trainee was doubling his local tally.

Hitchcott said: “He has deserved that, after running well on the whole at the Carnival. This drop in grade has helped him get his head back in front. That should do his confidence the power of good and I was always going well on him close to the pace. Against the better horses at the Carnival, he struggles to keep pace with them early on, but this was much easier for him. He broke very well and carried me into contention without my asking him. Hopefully he can build on this now he has won again.”

In the other feature, the aforementioned Lytham St Annes took advantage of his good start and advantageous post inside the other speed, holding his own throughout, before powering clear in the straight under Pat Dobbs. Defeating nine rivals in what was labelled the CNN Business Handicap over 1200m, he was followed home by Beachcomber Bay, who was well-fancied on the international market. Watson trains the winner for Mohd Khalifa Al Basti and the 6-year-old Bahamian Bounty gelding was winning for the third time this season, having landed consecutive races over 1200m at Jebel Ali in November and then over this course and distance four weeks later.

“We could not really get him right last season, but he started this campaign well before running a bit flat,” Watson said. “On turf last time, he ran much better and was bouncing after the race so we were happy to run him back relatively quickly. He is very versatile with regards to surface, likes it here and at Jebel Ali and stays further, but we will try and keep him at 1200m.”

The meeting kicked off with the CNN Style, a 1400m maiden, won in imperious fashion by debutant Blockchain, confidently ridden by Adrie de Vries for Fawzi Nass. In doing so, he provided owner Khaled Rahim with a maiden UAE winner at just the third attempt, but first since the Dubai World Cup at the end of March in 2010. A 4-year-old Dubawi colt, he was settled just behind the speed by De Vries. When a gap appeared on the rail leaving the home turn, his pilot drove his mount through it and they shot clear to win easily. Half-brother to a winner, his dam, Song, is an unraced Sadler’s Wells full-sister to six winners, including Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) heroine Yesterday and Group 1 victress Quarter Moon.

Nass said: “He only joined us in January, but the team have done well to get him ready for this so quickly. He has a nice pedigree, but one which suggests he will be better over further so that is a great start. We will look for another dirt race in April with him, but always have the option of trying him on turf.”

Runner-up when finishing fast in a 1400m Jebel Ali handicap just last Friday, Spirit of Scotland went one better in a 1600m handicap, CNN International Commercial (CNNIC), looking likely to win comfortably when hitting the front 300m out, but forced to dig deep by Heraldic, who fought back when headed to make a real fight of it. Settled behind the leading group by Dane O’Neill, sporting the predominantly orange silks of the Bouresly Racing Syndicate, the 5-year-old son of Girolamo was pulled out to make his challenge, quickening stylishly.

“This is a very nice horse who we think is improving all the time,” Bouresly said. “He is a lovely physical specimen with lots of ability and a horse we have very high hopes for.”

The longest race on the card, a 2200m handicap titled the CNN Arabic, developed into a duel throughout the final 400m when Grand Argentier, who led from the outset under Pat Dobbs, was about to be challenged by Richard Mullen and Welford. It took Mullen’s mount about 100m to get past, only for Dobbs to conjure a renewed effort from Grand Argentier, who battled on gamely, but could not get his head back in front.

Saddled by Satish Seemar for Touch Gold Racing, the 6-year-old gelded son of Dubawi was a 1600m Meydan winner in November and was winning for the second time this campaign, having run consistently well in four subsequent outings.

Seemar said: “That was very pleasing because he has beaten some proven stayers and I am delighted for the syndicate who own him. This is a very versatile horse who had the speed to win over 1600m earlier this season, but will probably stay as far as 2400m, which we might try with him.”

Syndicate supremo Mike Kaye added: “He has proved to be an ideal syndicate horse who keeps running well and loves it here at Meydan, which is great for us and the members.”

Connections were back in the winner’s enclosure after the 1400m handicap, the CNN Health, with Tadhg O’Shea aboard Speedy Move, owned by Touch Gold in partnership with Sean Ewing, winning cosily. A 7-year-old gelded son of Iffraaj, he was winning for the fifth time and second in the UAE having previously landed a 1200m Jebel Ali handicap in March 2016 on what was his local debut.

“It is an emotional win because we lost his half-brother, (2019 Group 3 Dubawi Stakes winner) Raven’s Corner a few weeks ago and Speedy was the reason we bought Raven’s,” Ewing said. “Apart from disappointing last time, he has been running well enough and Tadhg gave him a great ride, following the plan to perfection.”

The finale, a 2000m handicap, the CNN Sport, was won in impressive style by Gundogdu and jockey Xavier Ziani, who was never challenged and won for fun in the end, sprinting clear after leading comfortably throughout. The winner was trained by Salem bin Ghadayer and owner owned by Hamad Rashid Ghadayer. Mears and Jintshi finished up well behind the winner, but ran on encouragingly for their connections for minor placings.

“I didn’t expect to win by that far,” Ziani said. “Last year when he won his maiden, I said on TV that he has quality. I really like this horse.”

All seven races were on the Meydan dirt surface at what was the final fixture at the UAE’s iconic flagship racecourse before the $35 million Dubai World Cup card in just over two weeks.