Ajwad makes all in Nad Al Sheba Classic at season's closer at Meydan

The final race night of the UAE season was staged on Friday evening at Meydan Racecourse and featured full fields, an enthusiastic crowd and perfect Dubai weather befitting of a 2018-19 season that was lush with brilliance. 

The night was topped by a pair of brand new AED 240,000 (about $65,000) conditions events—the Nad Al Sheba Classic presented by Longines V.H.P. Collection over 2000m on turf and Meydan Mile sponsored by Azizi Riviera over 1600m on dirt—that could eventually become top events on the Meydan racing calendar if their first impressions were any indication. 

As a whole, the night’s seven races left copious clues of horses to watch for next season and made many an onlooker hopeful for even more excitement in 2019-2020.

One of those aforementioned promising types put on an eye-opening display when Bouresly Racing Syndicate’s Ajwad went straight to the front in the Nad Al Sheba Classic and then fought off all comers en route to a neck tally over Group 1-placed Majestic Mambo (Adrie de Vries up). 

Ridden to perfection by Bernardo Pinheiro, the son of Rock of Gibraltar was stretching out from 1600m to win the 2000m event in a swift time of 2:02.53. The effort came just two starts after finishing a respectable fifth to Blue Point in the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3) on Super Saturday. 

The win was his fifth from 29 starts and third in six weeks. Hold Sway and Xavier Ziani ran on well to claim third, 2½ lengths back of the top two. Favourite Gabr failed to factor after a brief inside rally to finish sixth, Godolphin Mile (G2) champion Second Summer (15th) faltered after showing speed and Group 1/Grade 1 winners Yulong Prince (11th) and Logrado (16th) disappointed.

“This is a very good horse and a tough one,” Bouresly said. “We have always thought he was very good, but today we were worried about the longer trip. The jockey has given him a very good ride, as he did last week, and has now won on him three times. The horse is tiny, but he has a big heart and will now go to England to race there in the summer before coming back for the 2020 Dubai World Cup Carnival, hopefully.”

Ajawd, picture Dubai Racing Club|Erika Rasmussen

The inaugural Meydan Mile, sponsored by Azizi Riviera and taking place 35 minutes prior, was a wide-open 1600m conditions contest that could have gone to multiple on paper and appeared equally as up for grabs at the top of the lane. 

Thegreatcollection, under a brilliantly patient ride by Adrie de Vries, was held up behind a wall of foes before the proverbial seas split and he burst through an opening to defeat chronically wide stablemate Galvanize (Pat Dobbs up) and a hard-trying Rodaini (Connor Beasley up). The final time was a smart 1:37.01 and the victory was his fifth lifetime from 17 starts. The final winning margin was 2¼ lengths for the 5-year-old gelded son of Saint Anddan.

“He is a tricky horse at times, but the team has done a great job with him at home and we hope he is going to be a nice horse for next season,” Watson said. “That was a good ride from Adrie, who we booked quickly when Sam Hitchcott was injured, because he had ridden the horse well before.”

The evening got underway with the Al Tayer Motors Maiden over 1400m (seven furlongs) on turf that was won in promising style by Jaarim, a WinStar Farm-bred half-brother to multiple stakes winner Bayerd. With Adrie de Vries in the saddle for main employer Fawzi Nass, the son of Distorted Humor tracked nicely in mid-pack on the rail before tipping out to find room turning for home. After briefly struggling to find his path, he gained clearance and zeroed in on favourite Dark Thunder (Pat Dobbs aboard), who appeared to be a winner at the time. 

Spoiling said rival’s hopeful graduation, the bay 3-year-old colt won by a half-length at the wire for his owner-trainer, annexing his initial victory in his third lifetime start. Rayig was another neck back in third under Fernando Jara. The final time was 1:25.64.

“We have had to be patient with him and we needed to freshen him up after his debut at Jebel Ali at November,” Nass said. “We were only able to get him back on the track in early March. We probably think he is a dirt horse, but he has shown here he can handle the turf, as well, so that gives us plenty of options. Hopefully he will be a nice horse for next season.”

The second race, the Azizi Mina Handicap over 1200m on dirt, was won in gate-to-wire fashion by Chess Master, who ran the board with aplomb from his rail post, stopping the Longines clock in 1:11.17. Ridden to perfection by Antonio Fresu for Musabbeh Al Mheiri, he bucked his long odds, as well hand previous form that saw him finish behind race favourite Lytham St Annes, who checked in third this time under Pat Dobbs. 

He was 1¼ lengths astern Leading Spirit (Richard Mullen up), who was 4½ lengths behind the promising winner. A 3-year-old son of Shamardal, Chess Master is a son of crack sprint filly Cassandra Go, who was second in the July Cup (G1), making him a half to Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) winner Halfway to Heaven.

It was a landmark 400th winner for Al Mheiri, who said: “He is a nice horse who has a great pedigree and plenty of ability. He is quick, but also stays further and goes well at Jebel Ali as well, so is a good horse for a syndicate. Obviously I am very pleased to reach the 400 and look forward to getting to 500!”

In a severe reversal in form, HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum’s Manahir closed like a rocket to run down a tough-luck runner-up in Pillar of Society (Pat Dobbs up) in Race 3, the Gulf News Handicap. Ridden by Royston Ffrench for Salem bin Ghadayer, the winning son of Naaqoos was two lengths clear after his closing trip, finishing up the 1400m on turf in 1:24.67 after a final furlong (200m) in 12.48 seconds. It was another neck back to Yaalail and Fernando Jara in third. The winner won for the fifth career time (all on grass) from 22 lifetime starts. He had never factored on dirt from five tries, including a 11th-placed drubbing last out on March 14.

“He has not been an easy horse since joining us and was very hard to settle,” Ffrench said. “They went a nice gallop tonight, which has suited him. He settled quite nicely and then quickened nicely when I asked him.”

The Al Tayer Motors Handicap was the final in a storied career for multiple Grade 1 winner Furia Cruzada, a multiple Dubai World Cup alumnus and local Group 2 winner. After a career that has seen her compete in Group company on three continents, she went out fighting to a fine second-place finish to promising 5-year-old Mudallel, who was ridden to perfection by Connor Beasley, finishing the 2000m in 2:04.88. Furia Cruzada and Antonio Fresu were 2½ lengths back and a neck ahead of Group 3 winner Montsarrat. The winner won for the first time on dirt from four tries, while earning a fourth lifetime tally from 21 starts. Furia Cruzada finished up her career with a record of 7-6-7 from 40 starts.

Bin Harmash said: “He had been running well at Jebel Ali and is a nice new horse who we were keen to try at Meydan. We now know he can run well at both tracks, so that gives us some more scope next season.”

The final race of the 2018-19 UAE racing season, the Longines La Grand Collection Handicap was won in brilliantly determined fashion by Ahmad bin Harmash-trained Carrington, who held off a stubborn Fernando Jara-piloted Almoreb throughout the stretch to win by a neck. The victory was the 6-year-old son of New Approach’s fourth from 19 lifetime tries as he finished up the 1800m on turf in 1:50.39. It was another 1¼ lengths back to Valcartier in third.

The UAE racing season championships for owner, trainer and jockey titles were also sewn up and awarded on the night, with said titles going to the same team that won the Group 1 $1 million Dubai Kahayla Classic on Dubai World Cup night with AF Maher: owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, trainer Ernst Oertel and jockey Tadhg O’Shea.

“It's great and I had a tremendous year,” O’Shea said immediately after accepting the award.

“Richie (Mullen, five wins behind in second) said he would have to have a Frankie Dettori-type seven-win night to beat me. Obviously it was a great tussle the last month and to come out on top was very satisfying. There are lots of people to thank, including Mr. Oertel, Khalid Al Nabooda and Satish Seemar. It’s a big team effort and I have it easy. I just try to steer them in the right direction.”