After all the talk surrounding Mike De Kock, it was inevitable last week that he would bag a winner on the dirt. He almost managed it in the first with Ad Idem, in the end being beaten a short head by the favourite Local Time, before eventually picking up the 4th race, the 2000 Guineas trial, with Mubtaahij (as well as training the second in the race Ajwad).
This week, we’ve got some fine looking races, as well as a nightmare handicap to end the card which we won’t be getting involved in.
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This week opens with a 1,200 metre (6f) sprint on the dirt, and where better to start than with De Kock’s runner, Merhee. He had a comeback run to blow away the cobwebs 2 weeks ago, finishing in mid-division after leading for most of the race before finding little and finishing one-paced. Given he had been off the track since March of last year, we can’t complain with the performance (a head behind Tawhid, G3 winner at 2), and while he may offer a decent each way bet, for the win purposes there may be at least one too good.
Speed Hawk also ran on the card a fortnight ago, and while the form shows 8th of 10, he was less than 5 lengths off the winner, Hototo. Also involved in that race were the likes of Ahtoug (2nd in the Al Quoz Sprint last year) and Saayerr, and with the change to a dirt surface today is likely to be of benefit to Robert Cowell’s colt. The distance may be a question mark, but the horse won over 6 at Wolverhampton and I think it will suit.
The final horse that interested me is bottom weight, Touch Gold. He finished 6th here last week, in the listed race won by Reynaldothewizard, and as with Merhee, that was his first run since March as well. He can run from the front, or just behind the leaders, which is important on this dirt track, has won both here (over 6 on Tapeta) and at Jebel Ali (7f on dirt) last year when completing a hattrick. Looking at last weeks form, he finished ahead of Almargo (behind Merhee the week prior) and Caspian Prince (who was 3rd in Speed Hawk’s race 2 weeks ago). 7 furlongs may be Touch Gold’s optimum distance, but form shows he can handle the surface and the distance, and this is a class relief from last week’s race. I’ve given Touch Gold (15/2) a slight edge over Speed Hawk with Merhee back in 3rd.
A selection in this is likely to centre around the handicap won by I’m Back a fortnight ago. Henry Clay was a length second in that race, the 3rd, Le Bernardin, came back to win last week, with Busker (4th), Dragon Falls (5th) and Torchlighter (6th) all in behind. Even more interestingly, Almoonqith was 10th in this race and won at a local event at Meydan on Saturday, so the form from that race is worth following.
Having said that, I think there may be a possibility of Henry Clay being overturned by one of those in behind on that race. Dragon Falls and Torchlighter both were having their first runs of the winter, the latter off since July and the former since October. Busker was having his second run, having ran in December when ahead of Le Bernardin that day, but Henry Clay was having his fourth outing since November, so had race fitness over the majority of those in behind a fortnight ago. I fancy Dragon Falls will come on for the run, but of those in behind, I feel Busker will be the one to take out of it.
However, there are others to take into consideration here, not least an old favourite of mine in Tha’ir. He was a winner here on the Tapeta last year, has had some time off the track, and has ran well off an extended break in the past. Saeed bin Suroor and James Doyle had a double on the cards last week, and I like the look of Tha’ir (8/1) in this tough looking handicap to run a good race, possibly at a decent price.
The other horse that interests is Energia Fox for Marco Botti. He has been running at Lingfield over the winter, so will come here race fit, but there are question marks as to how he will deal with the travelling, with the majority of these having had the time to acclimatise already, whereas Paul Hanagan’s mount was racing at Lingfield less than 3 weeks ago.
Steeler is an old notebook horse, but has failed to add to his 2 year old wins which promised so much. There’s still time for him to fulfill the early potential shown, and has been far from disgraced in defeat last year after missing the 2013 season. The big question is if you would be willing to back him at 5/1, given over 2 years has passed since his last win, and for me the answer is unfortunately not.
Disa Leader is another horse on a long losing run, stretching back to 2011, while stablemate Umgiyo (Soumillon’s first choice) is lightly raced from South Africa, but hasn’t done enough yet against this field.
The one runner with solid form here in UAE is Pilote (7/2), who finished 3rd on debut here for his new connections in a listed contest. These same connections also ran Mr Pommeroy last week (a horse with similar French Group form to Pilote), who I believe would have won had Barzalona not dropped his whip heading for home, and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum has been spending big on his stable over the winter and has built up some good looking horses for this year’s carnival – and Pilote is definitely near the head of that list. At 7/2 there’s no each-way play there, but certainly some value on form shown.
The other horse that interests is Our Channel (13/2) for William Haggas, who was a half length second to Glory Awaits in a Group 2 in Turkey last time out. He had Toormore and Belgian Bill in behind that day, and could take another step forward as a 4 year old. The horse has good turf form, including another half length second in the American Derby at Arlington and some good handicap performances in the UK, and has a top trainer and jockey on board. He offers the each-way play in the race for me, and the forecast might be worth a shout as well in this one.
In the big race of the meeting, the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort, Mike De Kock is triple-barrelled in his assault on a race he has won six times (including the past 3 renewals) as well as 4 runner ups. Last year’s winner Anaerobio goes well first up, while the trainer himself has been bigging up Red Ray – a horse with some good South African form. I question if it warrants the current 5/2 favouritism, however, and the trainer’s comments aren’t always to be taken at face value – just last week he claimed Ad Idem wasn’t quite fully fit before running a career best. With that in mind, I have an interest in Zahee (11/1). He finished 5th in the Al Maktoum Challenge R2 last year, sandwiched between 2 solid runs over this distance at the carnival, and was clearly one of those that didn’t enjoy the new dirt surface when he ran 2 weeks ago. That run might turn out to be a useful way of dusting off the cobwebs before taking this one at big odds (11/1).
Some other horses that could be of interest for each-way value on the card are Jalaa (14/1) for the useful Doug Watson yard in the 3:55 and Limario for the same yard and jockey combo in the 5:05 (available at best priced 12/1 with Paddy Power, and 11/1 with William Hill). Jalaa has had the one run, back in December at Jebel Ali, and with the assumption this was designed purely to remove the cobwebs, the horse is well drawn to go to the front (something it loves to do) a tactic that has been seen to good effect so far on the new dirt track. Meanwhile Limario runs in the same race as the infamously frustrating to back Tamarkuz (currently best price 7/2 fav). Limario has no dirt pedigree, no previous experience, so is likely to be overlooked, but given Doug Watson has a dirt track at his stables, he wouldn’t be entered unless he takes to it. His form from last year’s carnival is enough to be positive about and the price makes it a worthwhile risk in my opinion. Particularly as a double with William Hill on Jalaa and Limario pays a whopping 180/1 – well worth an each-way punt.
NAP: Pilote 7/2
NB: Touch Gold 15/2
IWAC: Tha’ir 8/1
IWAC: Zahee 11/1
RFC: Pilote/Our Channel
Each-Way Double: Jalaa/Limario 180/1
Good luck to those that are having a bet, let me know how you get on @greglarmouth