Friday's Al Ain Cup Brings Curtain Down On UAE Season

The final fixture of the UAE racing season is at Al Ain on Friday evening, with a 7pm start time, and highlighted by the inaugural running of the Al Ain Cup, a 2000m conditions race with Prestige status.

The final of seven races, it has attracted a select field of seven and looks wide open. For Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, Ernst Oertel saddles both AF Al Sajanjle and AF Al Bairaq, the choice of the Champion Owner’s retained jockey, multiple champion, Tadhg O’Shea.

A 1600m Abu Dhabi turf winner on his final start last season, the homebred 7-year-old entire made a bright start to this current campaign when chasing home Somoud in the 2200m prep race for the Jewel Crown. His best effort since, on his most recent appearance, was when sixth to the same rival in the Group 1 Emirates Championship over the same 2200m course and distance in the capital. He has only tried racing on dirt once previously, when fifth in a conditions race over 1600m here at Al Ain at the end of February last year.

Meanwhile, stablemate AF Al Sajanjle has not won since February 2019 when he landed the 1600m Group 2 Mazrat Al Ruwayah on the dirt surface at Meydan. That was good enough to earn him a place in that year’s Kahayla Classic, won by O’Shea aboard AF Maher for the same connections, but remains his sole dirt success.

O’Shea said: “As I always say these choices are never easy and AF Al Sajanjle is never an easy horse to pass over but I decided on AF Al Bairaq.

“Both have been working well, but my fellow has only had one try on dirt in a race before and has been going very well on it at home. Hopefully I have picked the right one, but I will be happy if Richie wins on the other for Khalid and Ernst because we are, basically, a team.”

Now trained locally by Helal Alalawi, RB Texas Hold Em makes his first start for the yard after five starts for Doug Watson, the best of which was his local debut when second in the 2020 Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge R3 over 2000m on dirt at Meydan. Alalawi has booked Antonio Fresu who has been in great form recently, especially on Purebred Arabians. Running in the silks of Byerley Racing, the 6-year-old entire has not fired this season, but was a 1700m Grade One winner in his native US. This will be his first outing on dirt racing clockwise having had one Abu Dhabi start, his only ever turf attempt, racing the same way round. Meydan and all US tracks are left-handed.

Alalawi, who trains the majority of the owners’ horses, said: “He is an exciting new horse to have in the yard and one we are really looking forward to running.

“He has settled in nicely and is working well. He has had a nice break since his last appearance and we are hoping for a big effort.”

Darius Du Paon surrendered his unbeaten Al Ain record on his third course appearance, but was far from disgraced in the 1600m Group 3 Al Ain Mile. That was his penultimate start and he will appreciate the extra 400m. He has subsequently finished fourth, over 2200m on the Abu Dhabi turf, in the Group 1 Emirates Championship. Fabrice Veron rides in the silks of HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan for Eric Lemartinel.