The new horse racing season begins in the UAE on Friday so Dubai racing expert Adam Brooks fills us in on the horses, jockeys and trainers to follow...
"Time off will have done Matterhorn no harm and, when the business end of the season, comes around this is an animal to keep onside."
It's been seven months since the stalls crashed open in a race in this part of the world, so the UAE racing community is excited that the start of the season is almost here.
Mullen to challenge for jockeys' title
Jebel Ali stages the opening thoroughbred card of the new season on Friday and will be the first battleground on which the enthralling jockeys' title race will be fought.
Tadhg O'Shea has emerged victorious in the last three seasons but Richie Mullen is never far away. If the Welshman can stay in touch or even gain a lead over O'Shea in the opening weeks, he could indeed regain his crown after a three year wait.
Italian rider Antonio Fresu rode 31 winners in the 2019/20 season and he is likely to build on that in his second season as retained jockey to Mussabeh Al Mheiri. Pat Dobbs will arrive off the back of a decent season in England. The Wexford native has the backing of the powerful Doug Watson barn and he can expect to enjoy plenty of winners without troubling the principals.
Seemar a strong bet for leading trainer
Satish Seemar was the leading trainer last season with 45 winners, his first title in over decade and he is now in pole position to go back to back. The way in which he has retooled and restocked his stable has been very impressive and Seemar can now rely on a strong squad of young horses.
Gladiator King is out on his own as the best dirt sprinter in the country. The chestnut handled the switch from Jaime Mejia's Florida base seamlessly and he took some notable scalps when winning a pair of Group 3s over six furlongs at Meydan in January.
Wafy is as exciting a horse as there is in the UAE. The 5yo son of Dubawi trounced 12 rivals on his dirt debut at Jebel Ali in February before winning again at Group 3 level on Super Saturday at Meydan.
Seemar enjoyed a stellar campaign with his juveniles last term and now that his smart colts Commanding, Tuz and Emblem Storm are a year older and stronger, they are primed to have successful seasons.
Doug Watson will be a trainer to watch as he almost always is. The master of Red Stables enjoyed an amazing evening in November last year when he saddled all six winners on the card at Meydan. The rest of the season didn't quite live up to that achievement but he ended the campaign with a respectable tally of 36 winners.
Established stars such and Drafted and Kimbear will fly the flag of the yard once again with Watson hoping that the former will have an uninterrupted season and overcome the foot problems that have hampered him in the past. Rio Angie might be a filly to follow once she steps up to middle distances while Watson's US imports Quip and Switzerland can be expected to improve on what they have shown for the yard so far.
Horses to follow
We are unlikely to see Matterhorn until December at the earliest but he is certainly one to look forward to. This horse had a busy time of it when in the care of Mark Johnston but he showed himself to be verging on top class. He won seven times England and almost landed the G2 Boomerang Stakes on Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown. The 1mile Firebreak Stakes was chosen for his UAE debut in February and he performed well when beaten seven lengths over a trip that is short of his optimum.
His new handler Salem Bin Ghadayer promptly stepped him up to 10 furlongs for the G1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 and that showed the five-year-old in a much better light. Mikael Barzalona sent Matterhorn to the lead early in the race and the horse put up a hugely dominant display, setting a fierce gallop and sustaining it all the way to the line. The time off in the interim period will have done him no harm and, when the business end of the season, comes around this is an animal to keep onside.
Pedigrees don't come much better than Wafy's but he was disappointing when in the care of Charlie Hills in England. His career has been turned around after switching to the dirt for the champion trainer Satish Seemar. He bolted up in a Jebel Ali handicap in February and many an eyebrow was raised when he was declared in the six furlong Group 3 on Super Saturday. The decision to run was vindicated and Wafy swooped late from off a fast pace to collect the prize. It is encouraging that this son of Dubawi has done so well over sprint trips while looking like he will be even better when stretching out in distance.
This three-year-old colt came from very humble beginnings. The son of Oxbow was sold for just $7,000 at Keeneland in September 2018 and embarked on his racing career in Russia. After winning his first two races by a combined distance of 39 lengths his connections elected to make the switch to Dubai and trainer Satish Seemar. He was drawn poorly on his only run at Meydan's Super Saturday fixture but he overcame that to run a very eye-catching race behind his stablemate Emblem Storm. He raced wide all the way and was keen in the hands of Tadhg O'Shea. That was an exciting debut in this country and Tuz displayed a fair degree of inexperience on what was just his third ever run. He is certain to improve.
This colt was a notable disappointment on Super Saturday behind the aforementioned Tuz. Salem Bin Ghadayer's colt remains a maiden after four starts but he has shown no shortage of talent in his short career to date. This is a tall colt with tones of scope and he should improve with time. He will have no problem winning his maiden will do better again when stepped up to middle distances.
William Haggas got Alkaamel to win three times in succession on the all-weather surfaces in England last year. His turf form was generally consistent but this son of Havana Gold is yet to win in eight runs on that surface.
Mussabeh Al Mheiri has brought this four-year-old along slowly, giving him four starts over sprint trips before unleashing him over a mile at Meydan in March. Rider Antonio Fresu had the luxury of easing up with just under a furlong to run as his partner cruised home in splendid isolation. Now that connections know his optimum trip there is plenty of races open to this exciting horse.
This gelded son of Dutch Art was a serial winner for Kevin Ryan and his new connections parted with 25 thousand guineas to secure him at the horses in training sale. He does not possess a typical dirt pedigree but his opening efforts on that surface have been promising. His trainer Ahmed Bin Harmash didn't saddle a winner since November of last year and if whatever problems the stable have endured are over, this horse could continue his progression. Expect to see him among the entries in the opening weeks of the season.
Team Decision is another horse who is very much bred for the grass. Saeed bin Suroor managed to collect three races with him in the summer of 2018 but hasn't been the easiest horse to train since then. His new handler Mussabeh Al Mheiri has done well with him and the five-year-old was agonizingly caught in the shadow of the post in the Listed Jebel Ali Stakes. This horse clearly stays very well and is unexposed in dirt. A handicap win off 93 should be well within his compass.
Doug Watson looks to have a real good one on his hands in the shape of Golden Goal. Dark Angel is emerging as a sire to follow on dirt and his son Golden Goal has some of the hottest form in the book courtesy of his Meydan win all the way back on December 19. No less than five subsequent winners were among his beaten rivals on that occasion. He has missed a couple of engagements since then but hopefully he will be back on the track in the opening weeks of the season. His handicap mark of 90 now looks to be extremely lenient.