With 10 runners at Meydan tonight, the UAE's top trainer feels confident at the scene of his biggest triumph.
Al Raihe is out to catch up on rival Watson
DUBAI // Ali Rashid al Raihe, the UAE's top trainer last season, is looking for his first win of the 2010/11 season as he sends out 10 runners tonight in the highly competitive opening meeting at Meydan Racecourse.
Al Raihe was winless at the season's opening meetings at Jebel Ali and Abu Dhabi, and he already trails last year's runner-up trainer, Doug Watson.
"Unfortunately we have started quite slowly this season," al Raihe said yesterday from Grandstand Stable. "Last season we had a lot of good results at Jebel Ali and got off to a great start but, inshallah, we hope we can get a good result at Meydan now."
Watson, a three-time champion trainer who trailed al Raihe by just two wins last term, made an impressive start to the season, scoring a double with Gulf of Gold and Hunter's Glen at Jebel Ali.
Watson conceded that the right man won the title last season, but said he wants his crown back.
"Last time it worked out the way it should have," he said. "Ali had a great year and topped it off with a great win on World Cup day. But we like to win the championship at Red Stables and that's what we'll be looking to do this season."
Al Raihe is eager to start notching up winners and looks forward to having his horses race at Meydan. The showcase racetrack was the scene of al Raihe's greatest triumph - the victory of Al Shemali in the US$5 million (Dh18.3m) Dubai Duty Free on World Cup night.
That win came after 15 years in the business, nine at Sharjah and six at Nad al Sheba.
"Meydan is a very special place to me and I'm very glad to have my horses compete there again," he said. "It is human nature to want to achieve bigger and bigger things and we hope we can repeat our previous success. The triumphs of our stable have been gradual, we have built on our foundations year after year and we'd like to do the same this year."
One runner with the credentials for a good performance tonight is Rochdale, who gets a run in the final race, the Dh80,000 Emirates Airline Handicap over 1,900m (9.5 furlongs). He won the same race last season and holds winning form over opponent Bawadi, from Mubarak bin Shafya's stable.
But Rochdale's win last term came on Jebel Ali's dirt. Now that some of the early-season meets have switched to Meydan's synthetic Tapeta track, Rochdale must attempt to repeat his victory on the all-weather surface.
"He liked Jebel Ali last season," al Raihe said. "We put him in the same race on the Tapeta and now we can only wait and see how he takes to it."
Another live chance comes in the penultimate race, the Emirates Holidays Handicap over a mile in which al Raihe saddles three.
Royston Ffrench, the stable jockey, takes the ride on the highest-rated Bermuda Rye, who got a run on the synthetic surface last season, finishing ninth over a slightly longer trip, and al Raihe hopes his previous race on Tapeta will stand him in good stead tonight.
Watson saddles two in the race with Shopton Lane looking the first string with Pat Dobbs booked to ride.
Rory Cleary will partner stable companion Fares, and Watson said: "We made a nice start last week and hopefully can continue in good form. The racing does look very competitive though. Shopton Lane is well and pleasing us but you can never discount Fares."
They will be opposed by Dahteer from Dhruba Selvaratnam's Jebel Ali Stable. Dahteer has come on strongly since joining Selvaratnam in 2006 and was a comfortable winner over a mile on the dirt of his home track in January.
Erwan Charpy's Keep Discovering could also be a threat.
Bermuda Rye also faces two stablemates - the Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid-owned Aamaaq and Estidhaaf, who both won races last season.
"These are the types of horses that are the lifeblood of a racing stable," said al Raihe. "They are consistent and honest and always win us some prize money every season.
"Hopefully that's what they will do [tonight]."