Shebabi and Shimaal Nebraas could help Watson stay on top of Trainer’s Championship

DUBAI: US trainer Doug Watson will be aiming to defend his lead in the UAE Trainers’ Championship this weekend, as racing connections head to Jebel Ali on Friday for a six-race card sponsored by H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Shadwell Racing.

With 12 wins so far, Watson is one ahead of Zabeel Stables trainer, Satish Seemar.

Jebel Ali’s meeting on Friday afternoon is highlighted by a fascinating 1400m handicap and Watson saddles Sheikh Hamdan’s Shebabi.

“I think he will run well,” said Watson, who has enjoyed a prolific two weeks on the UAE racing circuit. “He improved a lot from his first run back at Meydan to finish a close fourth at Jebel Ali two weeks ago. He is working well and should be competitive.” The American also saddles Shamaal Nibras, second at Meydan Racecourse’s opening meeting of the season before struggling there a fortnight later. Better is clearly expected this week.

“He ran really well twice at Jebel Ali last season,” said Watson. “So we know the surface and hill are not going to be an issue for him. His first outing this season was excellent but he ran a bit flat second time. We have freshened him up and he seems in great form.” Encipher was an impressive course and distance winner four weeks ago, as he was in the same race 12 months earlier. Owned by The Royal Cavalry of Oman, he is trained by Ali Rashid Al Raihe whose stable jockey, Royston Ffrench, is in the saddle, just as he was last month.

“That was a good win last time,” said Ffrench. “He goes particularly well at Jebel Ali where he loves the dirt surface. Hopefully he is the one they all have to beat.” The same owner’s Atlantic Brave is seeking a seventh course win and fifth over this 1400m for trainer, Musabah Al Muhairi, but has not won since November 2012 when he was involved in a dead-heat with Escape Route.

That Jebel Ali race in which Watson’s Shebabi was fourth, saw the Erwan Charpy-trained Asatir land the victory and he is in opposition again with jockey Wayne Smith maintaining the partnership. “He will have improved for that outing as he had been off the track a long time,” said Smith. “They went very quick that day which really helped him as he stays further. This is a better race but at least we know the surface is not an issue and he retains plenty of ability.” Alnashmy, now trained by Mohammed Ramadan, was fourth in the Listed National Day Cup on the Abu Dhabi turf last Sunday on his first start for the handler. If over those exertions, he could surprise a few as he has had good Jebel Ali form in the past.

Dhruba Selvaratnam, who trains on the track for racecourse patron, H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, introduces Saayerr to local action. Winner of the Group 2 Richmond Stakes at Glorious Goodwood as a juvenile in 2013, he has not won in three subsequent outings but potentially looks a great new recruit to the UAE.

The same comment applies to stable companion Morawij who makes his local bow in the following 1200m handicap. The 2011 Jebel Ali Sprint winner, Spin Cycle, won for the first time since over this course and distance a month ago and could be the main danger.