WITH his turf rating of 111, four-year-old Ertijaal (AUS) will race under top weight of 60kg in Thursday evening’s Land Rover Discovery Sport Handicap over 1900m at Meydan.
This is a sand (dirt) contest, however, and the question that needs to be answered is whether the 2015 Gr1 Cape Derby winner will be similarly effective in his first run on the new surface in the hands of jockey Paul Hanagan.
Ertijaal’s pedigree suggests that he is likely to enjoy racing on sand. He is by Hard Spun, a terrific top-level performer who raced only on dirt and the Polytrack, winning seven of 13 starts from 1100m to 1800m, including the Gr1 King’s Bishop over 1400m on dirt at Saratoga.
Hard Spun’s places included a second in the 2007 Kentucky Derby (2000m) to Street Sense and he was runner-up to the star Curlin in both the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic (2000m) and the Pimlico Stakes (1900m).
Nothing is clear-cut however, and while the outcome of this race will determine the rest of Ertijaal’s Carnival campaign, Mike de Kock wasn’t too fazed on Tuesday, saying: “He will either go well on dirt or he won’t and if he doesn’t we’ll switch him back to turf. He’s fit and very well, it’s a competitive handicap, a real test but he is well drawn and I think he is massive runner even under his big weight.”
Judging by apparent stable confidence this could be “a good night at the office” – Mike was bullish too about the chances of Sanshaawes (Christophe Soumillon) and Tellina (Wayne Smith), his contenders in the Gr3 Dubai Millennium Stakes over 2000m on turf.
“This doesn’t look like the best ever renewal of the race and we have two runners who are very fit and well. They should both get their share of the action here.”
Another runner considered to have a winning chance is Prayer For Relief (Soumillon), who was touched off by Le Bernardin on his seasonal debut in Gr2 mile on dirt; then beaten over seven lengths by the smart Frosted over 1900m on dirt.
“We’re bringing Prayer For Relief back to the mile, he seems to fade when he races beyond 1800m. He drops in class and we fancy he’ll be right there to contend this one.”
Seven-year-old Pylon is in the same race, making his own seasonal debut. The big sand galloper is short of his best and Mike commented: “Pylon has suffered a few setbacks so this run after his long break will serve to bring him on, he will improve for it.”
Mastermind (Hanagan), is effective over 1400m on turf and will be yet another stable ace to be reckoned with in the Range Rover Trophy (Race 2).
“Mastermind gives of his best, he is doing well at home but he was penalised 8 pounds for his Gr2 placing last time so has a big weight to shoulder and there are several other hard knockers in the race. He has eachway prospects.”
Headline photo shows Ertijaal (blue silks) in second to Forries Waltz in the Al Rashidiya on 28 January. (Andrew Watkins).