Rain whets appetite of trainers to go hunting in the Meydan dirt

Red Ray without a race for 242 days but his pedigree and track record lend an edge in the Al Fahidi race.

The dirt surface, which caused some heartburn for a few trainers, will be a lesser factor after this week’s rain. Pawan Singh / The National
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South African racing manager Derek Brugman has not ruled out having runners on the dirt surface at Meydan Racecourse following the recent rainfall in Dubai.

Brugman is the racing manager for the Jooste family, most famously associated in the UAE with Variety Club, who won the Firebreak Stakes and Godolphin Mile last season.

Markus and Ingrid Jooste have three horses lodged at Mike de Kock’s Blue Stables with Red Ray set to make his seasonal bow tonight in the Al Fahidi Fort, the 1,400-metre Group 2 on turf.

Brugman also manages Contador, who has form on the Vaal sand in South Africa and could be seen first on Super Saturday in March, and triple Group 1 winner Yorker, who is being aimed at next week’s Group 2 Al Rashidiya on turf.

After the opening night of the Carnival a fortnight ago, De Kock stated that he would restrict his older runners to the turf, where he could help it, as there was a pronounced pace bias favouring front runners on the dirt.

De Kock sends out Merhee tonight in the 1,200m dirt ­handicap.

There has been significant rain in Dubai this week and the dirt surface at Meydan was sealed by rolling before 38 millimetres fell on it.

As a result, the dirt will ride fast tonight with less kickback, while the going on the turf track is good.

“I certainly wouldn’t go against Mike’s advice but if the track binds better and helps the horses to come from off the pace better, we wouldn’t be averse to trying it,” Brugman said. “If things become fairer, we may well give it a try.

“Horses are fragile animals, though, and we don’t want to fly all the way to Dubai to race on a surface that doesn’t suit our runners as there are always other targets.”

All three of the horses owned by the Joostes will be ridden by South African jockey Anton Marcus, who has flown in to partner Red Ray and also rides Rock Cocktail in the 1,800m turf handicap.

Red Ray faces nine rivals in the US$250,000 (Dh918,900) contest. The four-year-old colt has not raced for 242 days since he was second in a Grade 1 turf sprint in South Africa.

Red Ray has finished out of the first three only once in 10 starts, ranging in distances from 1,160m to 1,600m.

As he is by Western Winter, a sire who had some success in Dubai at Nad Al Sheba, a run on dirt may well be a possibility for Red Ray, who has the versatility to have World Cup night aims as diverse as the Dubai Golden Shaheen through to the Dubai Turf. “We thought he was a superstar at one stage,” Brugman said.

“A year ago, his best conditions were 1,400m on turf, but he has matured a lot in the year he has had off and is a great specimen now.

“We’ll see whether he has matured mentally, but there is no reason why he could not stretch out to a mile [1,600m].”

Red Ray will be joined by stablemates Zahee, ridden by Wayne Smith, and last year’s winner Anaerobio, who will have Christophe Soumillon on board.

De Kock has won the Al Fahidi Fort six times, including the past three, and is looking forward to the start of Red Ray’s international career.

“Red Ray has always had a big reputation and has shown us plenty in his work,” the trainer said. “He has shipped in from South Africa and our new arrivals have been needing a run. However, he seems in really good form.”

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