Horse Racing
‘Naughty’ Al Ain a trackwork oddity ahead of APQEII Cup

26/04/2018 17:51

Al Ain exercises at Sha Tin this morning.
Al Ain exercises at Sha Tin this morning.

The art of watching trackwork, at its core, is to watch horses run around in circles; at least, that’s the intention. Sometimes, though, the best-laid plans go awry, as it did at Sha Tin on Thursday morning (26 April) with Japan’s G1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup raider Al Ain.

For 57 minutes, Al Ain captivated trackside spectators as he kicked, bucked, planted, reared, jinked and hesitated. Dislodging track rider Yuki Iwasaki at his first attempted lap, the four-year-old then created havoc for both Iwasaki and Shin Otose, his regular rider earlier in the week.

Left and right the colt walked, sometimes picking up to a gallop, at other times remaining steadfast in his desire to remain statue-like. On turf and dirt he traversed, covering plenty of ground but proving far from straightforward in a mesmerising trackwork display three days out from the HK$24m feature.

If trainer Yasutoshi Ikee was concerned, however, he did not show it. In fact, he declared himself satisfied ahead of Sunday’s (29 April) 2000m event.

“As far as stopping on the track, that’s the first time he’s shown that,” Ikee said through an interpreter. “In regards to the results of the trackwork, though, I’m happy with the work. He accomplished what we wanted in terms of the speed and the amount of work he needed, so eventually it was a success.

“I doubt very much that we will see it in a race,” continued Ikee when asked about comparisons between his charge and Sunday’s rival Pakistan Star.  “Al Ain has never had an issue in a race in Japan. You have to remember that these are unfamiliar surroundings. In Japan, he works with other horses around him, so today was the first time that he was out galloping by himself. I think that was the reason.”

Towards the end of his work, Al Ain completed two gallops in the reverse direction up the Sha Tin home straight. The second, an 800m breeze from just past the winning post to the top of the 1000m stretch, stopped the clock in 54.8s (26.6, 28.2).

“Thanks to the Jockey Club, we renegotiated and Al Ain galloped the opposite direction in the stretch,” Ikee said. “In the end, I was relieved. He’s still green mentally but he’s in good form physically so hopefully he won’t behave badly in the race.”

Al Ain finishes third in the G1 Osaka Hai last start.

Ikee is no stranger to Hong Kong; he travelled 2016 QEII Cup fourth Lovely Day to Sha Tin, among eight starters in the jurisdiction, while he was also the travelling assistant for his legendary father Yasuo when the elder Ikee took G1 Hong Kong Vase (2400m) glory with Stay Gold in 2001.

Nor is Ikee junior completely foreign to headstrong gallopers. His greatest protégé Orfevre had a trick or two in the closet.

“Sometimes, Al Ain is difficult at home, but not to this level,” Ikee said. “He has been a little bit naughty today, but he does seem to switch on come race day. I have never had a horse behave like this over here.”

Al Ain arrives with strong credentials for the QEII Cup. A winner of the G1 Satsuki Sho (2000m), the Japanese 2,000 Guineas, at Nakayama 12 months ago, the well-bred son of Deep Impact, out of 2010 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Dubai Majesty.

“We thought this would be a good race for him,” Ikee said. “Being confident of a good run was one of the reasons why we have come to compete. It is a small field but there are some very good horses in this race. It will be a challenge, but yes, we are confident.”

There will be no repeats of Thursday’s antics pre-race, with Al Ain’s turf work done and dusted: “After today’s work, he will just stay inside the quarantine centre tomorrow, he will just do some walking inside. On Saturday, the plan is to do some light work on the dirt.”

Cristian Demuro will take the ride on Al Ain in the eight-runner field.