Feature Story



By Suleiman Altaf - 

If the illustrious 5270m Cheltenham Gold Cup, held in the UK next week, and the prestigious 5100m third and final leg of the Al Ain Marathon Series were to commence together, which would last longer? No need to summon your arithmetic caps as the answer to this can be witnessed live with the Al Ain spectacle taking the initiative on Saturday, six days before the pinnacle of the Cheltenham Festival.

Coincidence or mischief at the hands of the local Conditions Book writers? Well, each one to their own opinion. As far as the Al Ain feature is concerned, and the local trainers will be relieved top Irish jumps trainer Willie Mullins doesn’t train Purebred Arabians (yet), this year’s renewal promises to be a competitive affair. The first two legs have both been won by different horses and, with the added kilometer saved for the third leg, a third horse could be waiting to have the last laugh.

Tough as teak, the superstar mare Al Mahbooba took all three legs of this Series by storm last campaign settling the debate for the undisputed marathon champion in the country and reasserting her prospects for this season with a taking victory in the initial leg. However, a flat third-placed effort in the second leg has reignited that debate.

Horses are not machines and maybe it was just an off day for the Ibrahim Al Hadhrami trainee or perhaps a career high mark of 105 has begun to tax her. In any case, she will be a popular choice in this race with her track record and consistency providing her with a strong case for reclaiming the accolade of ultimate marathoner.

Try and try until you succeed is a proverb Loolwa (Bernardo Pinheiro) has certainly lived up to in her marathon career. Seeing the back of Al Mahbooba on four occasions since last year, the Musabbeh Al Mheiri-trained eight-year-old mare finally conquered her arch rival in Round Two of the Series last start, going gate-to-wire no less. Her rating has, understandably, propelled upwards by 11 to 98 and that leaves her carrying 2.5kgs more than she has managed in both legs so far. The greatest threat to the aforementioned duo hails from Dennis O’Brien’s Hakeem. An improving horse with a zest for marathons, he has been knocking the doors of late, grabbing silver on both marathon starts this campaign.

He is better off at the weights this time and has been picking up late in his races. The extra yardage should come in handy for the mount of Richard Mullen. Abdallah Al Hammadi’s yard is always wellfeatured in such races, and he dispatches four for this one. Oxford, fourth in the second leg this term, is the mount of Royston Ffrench while Octave, winner of the second leg in 2022, will be partnered by Italian rider Gabrielle Malune. Completing the quartet are Winked (Jose Santiago) and Golden Years (Jesus Rosales) who dips her toes in marathon company for the first time.

There is also a thoroughbred contest on the seven-race card for 0-80 rated horses over the minimum 1000m straight. Dukedom faces a far easier assignment than he did at Jebel Ali last week when losing by just over six lengths to the 94-rated Never Just A Dream. The ride of Richard Mullen could provide a first winner for trainer Okbah Aashour since he took the training reins two years ago. Nomasee (Patrick Cosgrave) who drops in trip for trainer Ismail Mohammed following a much improved third at Meydan latest is another serious candidate for the win with the Bhupat Seemar-trained Chief Of Navy (Tadgh O’Shea), now back to his preferred 1000m, should also be in the mix. The card also features a mix of five other maidens and handicaps all for the Purebred Arabian breed.