Meydan’s third Carnival meeting starts off a three-meeting weekend in the UAE, with HH Sheikh Hamdan sending out 17 runners across the three fixtures.
Meydan’s six race card features two Group races and a very competitive Listed handicap, the six furlong JAFZA Dubai Sprint, in which the Shadwell team have leading claims with Ekhtiyaar.
Trained by Doug Watson and ridden by Jim Crowley, the seven-year-old is twice a winner over this course and distance and warmed up for this with a good fourth over five furlongs two weeks ago. He does have to concede upwards of two kilos to the field here, but has plenty of class and should be able to do so, from a middle draw in eight.
Ali Al Rayhi’s Yaalail drops in trip, having been just collared late over seven furlongs last time. A horse with plenty of pace, he was fifth in a Group 3 over this course and distance last March and is now rated 2lbs lower.
He is the pick of Dane O’Neill over Alfareeq who made a good local debut over a mile for Musabbeh Al Mheiri in a tough handicap last week. Beaten just two and a half lengths then, this will be the first time he has run over six furlongs, having been campaigned over as far as a mile and three when trained in France.
Jebel Ali stages a quality-packed card on Friday, with the Listed Stakes and Sprint two races to savour. Sheikh Hamdan won the Sprint last year with Alkaraama and the five-year-old returns to defend his title.
Al Mheiri’s charge has run only twice since, finishing a good fourth in the G3 Mahab Al Shimaal on Super Saturday, before being squeezed at the start on his reappearance at Meydan two weeks ago. Back under his favourite conditions here, he should give another bold showing in the hands of Crowley.
His rivals include Watson’s Fanaar, who tries dirt for the fourth time. A Listed winner over seven furlongs in England, he has run well at Jebel Ali before but may have a bit to find with the principals here. He will be partnered by Dane O’Neill with Pat Cosgrave on Habub for Al Mheiri.
A newcomer to the UAE, having previously been trained by Owen Burrows, the well-bred War Front six-year-old runs for the first time since being gelded and tries dirt for the first time. A winner over a mile in the UK, this is also his first try at the minimum trip.
Eqtiraan has struggled on dirt so far, but Ali Al Rayhi’s charge gives the surface another try in the Listed Shadwell Farm Jebel Ali Stakes, over just short of a mile and a quarter. Ninth, after travelling up with the pace, in the Group 2 Singspiel Stakes last time out, this is a drop in class and he can’t be ruled out under Crowley, from stall seven.
The seven furlong Al Shafar Investment Handicap, race two, has a full field and includes Mujeeb, who has finished third twice at Jebel Ali. Off since February when he finished down the field at Meydan, the Dubawi gelding might just need this outing to regain full fitness. He will be ridden by O’Neill with Crowley choosing Edaraat.
The Exceed And Excel gelding ran an encouraging race at Al Ain when he was beaten just over two lengths into fourth. A smart performer when in the UK, he is very well-handicapped on the best of his form and heads to Jebel Ali for just the second time.
The nine furlong handicap, race seven, is also an open race and Watson’s Eshtiraak can again go well. Third over seven furlongs here two weeks ago, the six-year-old tries this distance for the first time since he was trained in Australia. He faces 14 rivals, including Erwan Charpy’s Akwaan, who is now down to a mark of 76 after a disappointing run last month at Meydan.
Previously trained in the UK where he won at Newmarket and Yarmouth, the son of Camacho is yet to really settle into life here, but perhaps this step up in trip might bring about some improvement.
The third race is a six furlong maiden which looks competitive, but Al Hadeer is a leading player, having run well on all four starts this season, including when second over course and distance in November. Beaten less than six lengths in handicap company here a month ago, he won’t be far away again this time.
The six furlong Ascana Handicap, race five, sees Shajjy continue his quest for a first win in the Emirates. Well-held last time when setting the pace over seven furlongs, this distance suits him better, but he is drawn wide in 14. His opponents include Mayaadeen, the pick of Crowley, who was eighth last week over a mile at Meydan.
A winner already at Meydan this season, this will be just his second run at Jebel Ali but he has drawn well in two. O’Neill rides from post 13.
Raafid is another who makes a quick return, having finished eighth, only beaten five and a half lengths, on turf at Meydan on Saturday. Consistent this season, he is now a pound lower than when successful here over five furlongs in March 2019.
Fawaareq, too, has run well in defeat this season, latterly finishing fifth here over seven furlongs. Third, beaten a neck, over this track and trip in December, he should finish in the money once again for Watson and UAE Champion Jockey Tadhg O’Shea.
Abu Dhabi hosts one Thoroughbred event during its six race card on Sunday, and Shadwell send out Haafel, trained by Al Mheiri, for his fourth local run. A son of Speightstown, his only win so far came over just short of a mile in France, so this mile and a half is a new test for him. He will start from stall 10 under O’Neill.