Ed Marnane: The UAE racing season cranks up a gear at Meydan on Thursday with the Listed Garhoud Sprint and Entisar Stakes, the twin highlights on a cracking card which will offer some clues for the upcoming Dubai World Cup Carnival that kicks off in four weeks.
In Race 5, the Entisar Stakes, Dubai World Cup runner-up Gronkowski – named after the legendary former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski – returns from his summer break.
He will be a warm favourite after his heartbreaking defeat to Thunder Snow in Dubai’s showpiece in March.
Trained by Salem bin Ghadayer, he is well treated by the race conditions and has strong claims of recording his first victory since landing the Burradon Stakes in March last year.
Ahmad bin Harmash’s New Trails, twice a winner at Meydan, merits plenty of respect and looks the main threat to Gronkowski.
Although he struggled in the Dubai World Cup, trailing in nine lengths behind Thunder Snow, he will appreciate the drop in class today and makes plenty of appeal.
Doug Watson, the season’s leading trainer, has dominated the Entisar Stakes in recent seasons, winning four of the last five.
The American is represented by Mystique Moon, an impressive winner at Jebel Ali on his seasonal debut. The five-year-old has to take a step forward to open his account at Meydan at the fourth time of asking.
Manguzi, the lone three-year-old in the line-up, gets weight from his six rivals and makes his debut for new owner Khaled bin Mishref and trainer Ali Rashid Al Rayhi.
He enjoyed a productive campaign last season, winning twice before signing off with a creditable third from a wide draw in the UAE Derby.
First run in 2014, the Garhoud Sprint – Race 6 on the card – has drawn most of the top local dirt sprinters, with last year’s runner-up Ibn Malik spearheading a four-pronged assault for his owner, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.
He looks the owner’s first string with Dane O’Neill up, and is fancied to go well returning after his summer break.
Nine Below Zero progressed nicely last year, winning a handicap over the course and distance on his UAE debut before running with credit in the major dirt sprints in the second half of the season. He is one to consider in the hands of the talented Dutch rider Adrie de Vries.
Waady, trained by Doug Watson, arrives in good heart, recently winning a course and distance handicap. He will need to improve up in class and makes limited appeal. His stable companion Ekhtiyaar is an interesting runner and has the assistance of Pat Dobbs.
He caught the eye last season, winning a valuable handicap before chasing home champion sprinter Blue Point in a Group 3, both on turf. If he handles the underfoot conditions on his dirt debut, he shouldn’t be overlooked.
The finale, a 1400m handicap, has attracted the biggest field of the card with 15 declared. The progressive three-year-old Midnight Sands impressed on his seasonal debut here last month, defeating Mazeed and four others and leaving the impression he is a horse to follow for the rest of the season.