Meydan hosts its opening meeting of the season on Thursday with a six-race, all-dirt, card to get us underway.
HH Sheikh Hamdan teams up with the in-form Doug Watson to run Alfolk in the six furlong handicap, race three. Now down to a career-low mark of 72, the six-year-old was a Grade 3 winner in South Africa but is still looking for his first UAE success. His last run, when sixth from a wide draw, was one of his best, however, so he is not discounted here. Second retained rider Dane O’Neill returns to take the ride.
The team have three chances in the seven furlong handicap, race five, where Almoreb goes for Ali Rashid Al Rayhi. Third at Jebel Ali on his latest outing in March, the six-year-old has some good results on the turf, but has struggled here on dirt in the past and might be best-watched this time.
Al Rayhi has a better chance of taking this with the consistent Tafaakhor, who won on his seasonal debut last year. Now just a 1lb higher than that Jebel Ali success, he also ended the season in good form and should again go well in what is a very competitive race, although stall 10 is not ideal.
O’Neill has opted to partner Watson’s Mayaadeen, who was a course and distance winner four starts ago, in January. Now just 2lbs higher than that success, he should be able to give another good showing from a good draw in one.
Abu Dhabi hosts its opening meeting on Sunday, where the Jewel Crown Prep, for Arabians over 11 furlongs, is the feature.
A strong field has been declared and the blue and white will be carried by Sauternes Al Maury, who is one of the oldest in the line-up at the age of eight. Off for 11 months having only managed two starts last season, this will be a tough ask on his return, against proven Group 1 horses.
There is one Thoroughbred race on the six-strong card, a handicap over seven furlongs, and Sheikh Hamdan runs five. Al Rayhi has made a good start to the season and he sends out top weight Edaraat. The four-year-old has been well-beaten on all three local starts, but had some smart UK form prior to that. Now back to a winning mark of 83 on turf, he should go well here, although stall 13 will make things tricky for jockey Connor Beasley.
His rivals include Tadbir, one of two in here for Erwan Charpy. A winner a year ago at Jebel Ali, he was an excellent second in a six furlong Meydan turf sprint in February and a repeat of that effort, back over his favoured seven furlongs, would see him go close here.
Charpy also saddles Farook, who looks well-handicapped on the best of his form, which saw him win a handicap off 90. Now 79 on turf, he runs at Abu Dhabi for the first time, breaking from stall four under apprentice Hugo Lebouc, who claims 3kgs.
Doug Watson’s Bawaasil arrives in good form, having been third here over a mile, beaten three-quarters of a length, when last seen in March. Off the same mark today, he isn’t without a chance of grabbing a first UAE win if able to repeat that effort, although Pat Dobbs will have to negotiate a passage from stall 14. Dobbs has chosen him over Fawaareq, the mount of Sam Hitchcott, who was ninth on his only try at this course. Yet toreally show his best in eight local starts, he may find this tough off a mark of 79.