ABU DHABI // The race for the trainer and jockey's championship is top of the agenda for tonight's final meeting at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club before the season concludes at the Dubai World Cup meeting at Meydan Racecourse on March 27. Ali Rashid al Raihe and the three-time champion, Doug Watson, are tied on 26 winners while Tadhg O'Shea heads the title race for jockeys on 34, closely followed by Wayne Smith (31) and Royston Ffrench (30).
Al Raihe, the Emirati trainer, was sitting pretty with a lead of two until Friday's Jebel Ali meeting when Watson saddled a double to join him on top of the table. The Godolphin trainer, Saeed bin Suroor, is on 24, and, with more fancied runners on World Cup night, is in contention too. "It is great to be in this position and let the best be crowned the champion," said al Raihe, who has just two runners entered in the two featured races this evening: Amoking in the Group One Emirates Championship for Purebred Arabians and Monte Alto in the Listed Abu Dhabi Championship for thoroughbreds. Monte Alto carries the hopes of al Raihe, who can regain the lead with Watson not having any runners tonight.
"He has run consistently well and will be a deserving winner if he can win this Listed prize," said al Raihe. "I would like to think he has a great chance because he has run some really big races in the Carnival." Monte Alto was the runner-up three times and placed third twice in his five starts in the Dubai International Racing Carnival. The six-year-old Danehill Dancer gelding is a winner over the course and distance in Abu Dhabi.
"This would be his 14th race of the season and he has never run a bad race," added al Raihe. "He has improved with every outing and comes in great shape for this race. And for me, this is my best season and the success I have already had is enough reward. "If the trainer's title comes my way, it would be good and will look great in my CV, but that's not a concern. I am happy with the season I have had."
Of the challengers, Mike de Kock's trio - Biarritz, Wonder Lawn and Hunting Tower - and Detonator (Musabah al Muhairi) and Meeriss (Dhruba Selvaratnam) are to be reckoned. The South African won this prize last year with Mr Brock and is well represented for a repeat. Biarritz and Wonder Lawn provided him with a double in Jebel Ali last week, and will be his two fancied entries under Kevin Shea and Frankie Dettori.
Gillian Duffield's Nesnaas is the choice of Richard Hills in the Emirates Championship over Remarkable Man and Al Mansoub, the trio in the silks of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid. Hills, who rode Remarkable Man to victory over Nesnaas in this race last year, has opted for the eight-year-old son of Jehol De Cardonne on his recent form of having finished twice ahead of Erwan Charpy's runner. Eric Lemartinel's Shadiyda, fifth last year, has not lived up to his reputation but is capable of turning it around on his home turf with Rabah De Carrere and Vire Volte also to be considered.