Two of UAE's leading trainers are level-pegging on 29 victories each with three meetings to go. Either could win the UAE trainer's championship title.
Brothers-in-law Al Raihe and Al Muhairi are neck and neck
Dubai // As brothers-in-law, Ali Rashid al Raihe and Musabah al Muhairi may spend family holidays together, but right now the pair are racing rivals as they fight out an intense battle for the UAE trainers' championship.
The two men are level-pegging on 29 victories each with three meetings to go.
Extra spice is added to the competition by the fact that the Emirati handlers, regular fixtures at all UAE race meets, occupy yards next door to each other at Meydan Racecourse.
Al Raihe is the defending champion and he knows something about close finishes to the season. Last year Al Shemali, his Dubai Duty Free winner, landed him the championship on World Cup day ahead of Doug Watson, the three-time champion trainer.
Right now the brothers-in-law are level after al Muhairi's Tenor de Vialettes claimed the third round of the UAE Triple Crown for Purebred Arabians at Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club on Sunday. The three remaining meetings are Jebel Ali on March 18, Abu Dhabi on March 20 and Dubai World Cup day on March 26. If the numbers stay as they are, al Raihe will win on countback.
But there is every chance that, like last season, the title race could come down to World Cup day.
Al Raihe, the master of Grandstand Stables, played down the championship race at the beginning of the week, but there is little doubt that much prestige is attached to being the UAE's top trainer.
"Musabah is my brother-in-law and for me, if he wins the championship it is the same as if I had won the championship," he said. "When we meet we don't really talk about racing, we talk more about our families."
But winning races is the result of months of hard work behind the scenes by many people and staff at both yards will be focused on their respective title bids.
"It will be very close," said Jailani Siddiqi, al Raihe's assistant trainer. "Last year it came right down to World Cup day and it could be the same this year. We have already won 29 races and last year we won 28, so we are already very happy."
Should the race to the championship come down to last meeting of the season then al Raihe holds a strong hand.
Like his success with Al Shemali last UAE season, al Raihe has struck gold with a number of improving horses in his yard, bringing them on during the year to earn a shot on the richest day of horse racing.
The sprinter, Happy Dubai, has won three times in the Carnival this season and will contest the Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup day. He is also likely to travel to Singapore for an international sprint campaign.
Haatheq, another Carnival winner and Al Maktoum Challenge Round Three runner will be aimed at the Godolphin Mile, and the same applies to Mufarrh.
Derbaas will follow in the footsteps of Al Shemali and take a tilt at the Dubai Duty Free and is also a possibility for Hong Kong.
In fact, the only disappointment this season has been last year's star, Al Shemali. The 2010 Group 1 Dubai Duty Free winner and Group 1 Singapore Cup third could not replicate his form this season.
Aimed at the World Cup instead of the Duty Free, the flashy chestnut did not take to Tapeta and was a disappointing 10th in his last turf run.
"He was the horse we thought would be 100 per cent but actually it has been other horses that have come through," said Siddiqi of the seven-year-old. Al Raihe singled Happy Dubai out as one of his best hopes on World Cup day.
"He is one of the horses that has shown the most improvement," said the trainer, who spent nine years conditioning racing camels in between his two stints as a racehorse trainer. "It is ideal to get a horse that can improve during the season rather than one that is already peaking. That is the challenge."
As well as success with horses, al Raihe also has success with people.
Ahmed Ajtebi, the Breeder's Cup-winning Emirati jockey learnt the ropes while an apprentice at Grandstand Stables. Mahmoud al Zarooni, Godolphin's new trainer, was also an assistant to al Raihe before moving to the international racing operation.
And this season the unofficial al Raihe racing school has achieved a new milestone, producing another Emirati apprentice, Saeed al Mazrooei, who won a double at Jebel Ali Racecourse on Friday.
"It was his first win and it made me very happy," al Raihe said. "In fact I was more proud when Saeed won his first race than when Al Shemali won the Duty Free, because he is a local and I was part of his training. When he won his second race on the same day, it was just unbelievable."
But there were no celebrations for al Mazrooei. Instead he was back at the yard before the sun came up on Saturday and bought in breakfast for all the Grandstand stable staff that morning.