LEHAAF has a chance of recovering the confidence in his ability and some lost betting funds when he lines up in Saturday’s Longines Conquest Classic over 1600m on turf at Meydan.
The four-year-old by Excellent Art had his share of supporters in a 1200m handicap when well fancied at Jebel Ali last week, but he failed to deliver the expected challenge and finished flatfooted, last of nine runners and beaten almost 13 lengths by Sholaan.
A Listed winner over a mile on turf in South Africa, Lehaaf is a horse with plenty of ability, so much so that Mike de Kock is on record saying that he is “a few points better than his rating”.
Lehaaf, out to restore his reputation. (Photo by Gold Circle).
The stable entered him in the Jebel Ali dash expecting to win so that his 98 rating could go up to a figure at which he could be entered for the Carnival’s handicaps, but, in Mike’s words, “our gamble didn’t come off. We made what we thought was a confident move racing him against arguably weaker at Jebel Ali, but he really disliked the dirt track and ran way below his best.
“We’re having another go here with Lehaaf because he showed on his first Meydan run he can be very competitive at the Carnival.” In the run referred to, Lehaaf was beaten a length by Zain Zamardal, Alnashmy and Intrigo, all of whom have since franked the form with respectable runs in stronger company.
Thierry Thulliez gets the ride on Lehaaf and while some may argue Mike has put the Frenchman on a ‘pointer’ to get him off the mark in Dubai, his three stable companions have all shown enough to be in the shake-up too.
Final Button also seeks a first local victory, at the eighth attempt and third this season. He was an excellent third a fortnight ago in a 1400m turf handicap. Gary Carroll, in the saddle on that occasion, keeps the ride.
“Final Button is certainly capable of a big run at this level and stays 1600m well. Red Duke and Alhebayeb need to bounce back to their best juvenile form but both are fit and well,” Mike said.
Interestingly Final Button got to within 2.25-lengths of star miler Variety Club in South Africa’s Winter Guineas back in April 2012. If he reproduces anything close to that, he’ll fight out the finish.
Red Duke (Richard Hughes) finished midfield in both his Dubai starts this term and has seemed lacklustre, but he is bound to improve as he needed both runs. He has some noteworthy European Group form to his credit as a younger horse and at that level of performance will make a bold bid.
Al Habayeb (Pat Cosgrave) could be the surprise package. A Gr 2 winner over 1200m at Newmarket bearlier in his career, his rating has dropped from a high of 107 to a current low of 98. He was adjudged best turned out horse before his last run – a sign of good health (and groomsmanship), and finished a creditable 3.75 lengths behind the likes of Mont Ras, El Estruendoso and Disa Leader. He looks to be approaching a competitive level of form and comes right into the picture.
To summarise, Lehaaf could be the pick on the stable’s high regard for him, but three others who sleep in the same barn at Blue Stables will be waiting to pounce if he fluffs his lines. A Mike de Kock Quartet makes appeal here, boxed on the Tote for a R24 investment . This will return a handsome dividend in whichever order they finish!