With 14 declared and a case to be made for most, it promises to be not only an exciting spectacle, but also a race to keep a close eye on with regards to the remaining two months of the Carnival.
South African Mike de Kock has a phenomenal record in the race, having saddled the winner on no less than seven occasions.
De Kock first won this with Right Approach, in 2004, who subsequently dead-heated in that year’s Group 1 Dubai Duty Free (now Dubai Turf), over the same course and distance on World Cup night.
The trainer has actually won the race in each of the last four seasons, each one ridden by Christophe Soumillon, and they combine this year with Forries Waltz. Winner of a 1600m turf handicap on his return two weeks ago, his only defeat, from five starts, was suffered on his sole UAE outing last year.
He looks a major player, as do his stable companions, Ertijaal and Mujaarib, both owned by Sheikh Hamdan. Paul Hanagan chooses to ride the former, winner of the Group 1 Cape Derby at the end of January last year. Dane O’Neill, like Hanagan retained by the owner, partners Mujaarib, winner of this race in 2014 but without a victory since.
De Kock said: “This is a race we have done well in over the years and we would like to think we have three live chances this time.
“Ertijaal is the undoubted class act of the three but he will certainly improve for the outing having been off since May and having been through the quarantine process.
“We have high hopes for him down the line so hope for a big run but tonight might not be the occasion he shows his best.
“Hopefully, he will run well and be seen at his best on Super Saturday and World Cup night. He is a proper horse. Mujaarib is in a lot better form than he was at any stage last year and run well on his comeback this year, while Forries Waltz is a horse we have high hopes for this year. It was a good win on his seasonal debut and we hope he can build on that. Basically, I would struggle to split the three.”
Trained by Erwan Charpy, the owner’s retained jockey, Paul Hanagan, was in the saddle and, at halfway, was clearly travelling best of the ten runners.
So strongly was he going, he seemed to almost pull Hanagan to the front almost 600m from home but then showed a great attitude to keep numerous challengers at bay.
Last year’s winner, Silver Galaxy (who was awarded the race) was one of the first to cry enough and it was left to Forjatt, winner of the race in 2014 and disqualified last year having past the post in front, to throw down the gauntlet in the final 200m.
“We put blinkers on him today and they have certainly helped,” said Hanagan. “He took me into contention travelling really strongly and then fair play to the horse who has really battled hard to stay in front.
“The Jebel Ali Stakes, over 1950m, looks a likely target.”
Hanagan was to complete a double for his main employer, with the Musabah Al Muhairi-trained Dairam winning in similar, gritty, fashion in a 1200m handicap and also completing a brace for his handler.
Earlier, Fernando Jara was seen at his strongest to land the 1800m handicap on the Al Muhairi-trained Absolute Sway for whom it was a case of third time lucky this season.
Paul Hanagan the managan does the biz on Sefri in the Jebel Ali Mile! pic.twitter.com/BRxLnCEA5z— Derek Thompson (@tommoracing) January 22, 2016
Narrowly beaten on both his previous outings during the campaign, he showed a willing attitude here and has posted both career victories at Jebel Ali.
“He has been in good form this season and deserved a change of luck. He tries hard which is always a good thing,” said Al Muhairi.
The meeting concluded with a 1000m conditions contest and Chris Hayes made every yard of the running on Morawij, trained on the track by Dhruba Selvaratnam for racecourse patron, Sheikh Ahmed.
It was some consolation for the defeat of Forjatt in the feature and Morawij looks a genuine contender for the Jebel Ali Sprint.
Proceedings opened with a 1400m handicap and Ferguson, making his local debut for Doug Watson, was the easy winner under Pat Dobbs.
Ferguson was posting his first career victory, at the sixth attempt and clearly took favourably to the dirt.
It took him 27 attempts, 21 locally, but Mr Churchill finally won his first race. Ridden by George Buckell for Ismail Mohammed, he landed a 1400m maiden.
Eleven have been declared and it would be hard to rule out many in a competitive looking heat in which the weights are headed by Modern History, one of three in the race to be saddled by Musabah Al Muhairi.
Apprentice George Buckell retains the ride after the pair landed a 1600m handicap on the Al Ain dirt on Boxing Day.
Equally effective on turf, Buckell’s mount should be staying on over a trip he has only tried once before, when well beaten in the Group 3 Al Shindagha Sprint on dirt.
Buckell said: “He won well last time and the runner-up has won since. He has plenty of speed so should certainly not be outpaced and the faster they go, the more chance his stamina will come into play.”
Al Muhairi’s other two runners Taayel and Ebn Arab are both owned by Sheikh Hamdan, as is the Ali Rashid Al Raihe-trained Kasb.
The owners retained jockeys, Paul Hanagan and Dane O’Neill, choose to ride Taayel and Kasb respectively, with Fernando Jara aboard Ebn Arab.
Al Raihe also saddles Day Of Conquest, the mount of stable jockey, Tadhg O’Shea. He will be having only his fourth UAE start having won two of his nine outings in the UK.
O’Shea said: “He has not had much luck so far and you can ignore his last run. He is working well and should go close.”
Al Raihe has enjoyed a great season thus far, as has Doug Watson who relies on Charlie Croker, the mount of Pat Dobbs.
He has only run once for the yard, showing promise on the dirt at Jebel Ali. Watson said: “He is a nice new horse in the yard and is in great form at home. Back on turf we expect a big run.”
Another in his first season locally and likely to appreciate the return to turf is Roossey, to be ridden by Chris Hayes for Dhruba Selvaratnam.
The meeting concludes with a 1600m turf handicap with 10 set to face the starter, including Udododontu, the only Godolphin runner on the card.
Trained by Saeed bin Suroor and the mount of Harry Bentley, he will be having his first outing since Royal Ascot when beaten a head in a valuable handicap. Previously trained by Richard Guest, this will be his first outing in the Godolphin blue and his new connections will be hoping to win this before heading to races at the Carnival.
Bin Suroor said: “He is a horse we like and has been working well.”
Watson saddles Marching Time and Shebebi, both owned by Sheikh Hamdan with Hanagan electing to ride the former.