Ed Marnane: The curtain comes down on the season in Dubai with Meydan’s bumper eight-race card on Thursday.
The race to be crowned champion trainer is battle between former champions Doug Watson and Dubai-based South African Ernst Oertel, the pair sharing the lead with an impressive 38 winners apiece.
Oertel has no runners at Meydan but is sending a big team to Al Ain on Friday in his quest for a fourth title.
Watson, chasing a seventh trainers’ crown, has plenty of runners at Meydan, starting with three in the opening 1400m maiden on turf.
Of the trio, the British import McManaman is the most interesting on his first start for the American. Formerly trained by Richard Fahey, he showed a decent level of ability in the UK, most notably when third in the National Stakes (Listed) Sandown. McManaman is nicely drawn in stall No 5 five and merits respect in a race that won’t take much winning.
Zero To Hundred, trained by Satish Seemar, has been frustrating for his connections, finishing in the frame is five of his six races this winter. This looks a good opportunity for the son of Dubawi to finally get off the mark in the hands of Tadhg O’Shea. The application of first-time cheekpieces, replacing blinkers, could help this lazy sort.
Later on Seemar and O’Shea combine with the exciting Remorse in Race 7, the 2410m Handicap on turf. By Dubawi, he built on a pleasing local debut at Jebel Ali when demolishing a decent field on dirt at Meydan last month, earning a career high rating of 95.
The switch to turf shouldn’t be an obstacle, as the four-year-old won on grass in France for Andre Fabre and he will take plenty of stopping.
The progressive Irish Freedom, recent winner of the Abu Dhabi Championship (Group 3), arrives in the form of his life and gives Seemar a strong hand. His bid for a third consecutive win could be dashed, racing off a stiff mark of a 100.
Pharoah King, trained by Doug Watson, is a major player from the foot of the weights under Richard Mullen. Winner of his opening two races in the UAE, he wasn’t disgraced behind Remorse on his latest outing, a performance that was entitled to be upgraded having endured a tough trip from a wide gate.
Switching to turf, a surface has yet to experience, is a query for the lightly raced four-year-old. However, being by American Pharoah suggests he can cope with the conditions.
The opening handicap, Race 2, over 1400m on turf has attracted a full field of 16 and is predictably competitive. Salem bin Ghadayer has elected to run last month’s Jebel Ali winner Cocobai, surprisingly swerving the valuable conditions race, restricted to three-year-olds, later on the card.
The US-bred daughter of Munnings impressed when easily defeating Nayefah and four others, eight days after showing plenty of promise on her racecourse debut at Meydan.
She’s vulnerable taking on her elders and switching to turf on her handicap debut, with her lack of experience a potential disadvantage taking on experience and seasoned handicappers.
The late Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum has three runners under the Shadwell banner, with Bawaasil, the mount of Sam Hitchcott, making most appeal, narrowly ahead of recent Jebel Ali runner-up Shajjy. Trained by Doug Watson, he can bounce back under his optimum conditions after failing to fire behind Zorion at Jebel Ali. Previously, the son of Oasis Dream had finished a close fourth of 16 behind Mystery Land on turf at Meydan in February, a rock-solid effort in a competitive handicap.
Shadwell can win the 1400 handicap on dirt, Race 3, with Alkaamel. Trained by Musabbeh Al Mheiri, he is ideally berthed for a confirmed front-runner and will appreciate stepping down in grade after a respectable sixth in the Jebel Ali Classic.
Karaginsky, nearly seven lengths ahead of the selection at Jebel Ali, is an obvious danger, despite being worse off at the weights. However, the six-year-old has disappointed in the past at Meydan, and perhaps Madkhal, twice a winner at Meydan this season, could emerge the biggest threat.
He has struggled since being raised in class in his last two races, the most recent behind Rodaini at Jebel Ali. The refitting of a visor is a positive equipment change, and in a trappy race, he has each-claims.
Reliable and consistent Mutaraffa can win the 1200m handicap on turf, Race 4, for Shadwell and trainer Musabbeh Al Mheiri.
He has been contesting stronger races at the Dubai Carnival and running with plenty of credit, highlighted by a personal-best in the Nad Al Sheba Sprint (Group 3) when fourth behind Final Song last month.
The winner gave the form a big boost when chasing home US sprinter Extravagant Kid in the Al Quoz Sprint (Group 1) on the Dubai World Cup undercard.
Best Bet: 4 Alkaamel [Race 3]
Best Value: 14 Mount Pelion [Race 6]
Best Swinger: 4 Alkaamel and 5 Madkhal [Race 3]
(Races 5to 8)
Leg 1: 1, 2, 3
Leg 2: 3, 8, 10, 14
Leg 3: 4
Leg 4: 1, 4, 11, 13