Antonio Fresu has history in the second round of the Al Maktoum Challenge. The Chilean bred mare Furia Cruzada just held on to cause an upset in the 2017 renewal, this win was the highlight of Fresu’s time with former boss Erwan Charpy. The Italian rider is currently enjoying a stellar season in the UAE and his new link-up with Musabbeh Al Mheiri has been bearing fruit.
“It has been a great season so far and hopefully it will be my best one yet in Dubai. Things were going very well with Erwan but once I got the offer from Musabbeh I really couldn’t say no. He told me that he would be training more than 60 horses, up from 25 the season before. It’s a very powerful yard and it’s been a big step in my career.”
Fresu currently sits on 23 winners for the season, two behind the reigning champion jockey Tadhg O’Shea. It remains to be seen if Mussabeh Al Mheiri has enough firepower to sustain Fresu’s title challenge.
“I hope so, we have a few nice horses who haven’t run yet and the horses all seem to be in good form. It won’t be easy but we’ll be trying our best.”
Most of Dubai’s top riders will ply their trade back in England or Ireland during the summer months, but Fresu’s Italian roots have taken him home in recent years.
“Last summer I rode 60 winners in Italy including two G3s. I had a verbal agreement to ride for Diego Romeo’s racing operation Scuderia Incolinx and that went very well.”
Fresu did make the odd foray over to England last summer. He partnered Darren Bunyan’s Hit The Bid in the G3 Dubai International Airport World Trophy Stakes at Newbury in September.
“I rode work on Hit the Bid when he was out at the Dubai Carnival in 2018 but his owners were keen to have Oisin Murphy ride him at the races. Darren called me and told me that he had the horse in great shape and wanted me to ride him at Newbury because I knew him well. He is a tricky horse and ran well in third place but probably isn’t the same horse as he once was.”
Military Law runs in the G2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 on Thursday. This gelding won the Entisar Stakes in December, beating Dubai World Cup runner up Gronkowski in the process. It was an amazing performance for a horse with such inexperience on the dirt surface but he didn’t always sparkle in his homework.
“To be honest, he didn’t impress me very much at the beginning as he was very lazy and I felt he probably wasn’t a group horse. Then we started working him and he proved to be better than everything we worked him against. He never took a blow after pulling up at the end of his work and not many horses can do that.”
The good looking son of Dubawi disappointed on his Meydan debut when 6th in a 1 mile conditions event. But that effort wasn’t totally without promise.
“I told Nasir Askar (owner) he would run well first time up but I was sure that he wasn’t a miler. He slipped when jumping from the stalls, got behind and suffered a lot of kick back. I wasn’t pushing him at all but when I pulled him out, he changed leads and flew home. I was very impressed by the way he picked up.”
The bookmakers made him a 50/1 chance for the Entisar Stakes two weeks later and those odds were probably warranted on the basis of all known top class dirt form (or lack thereof).
“I wanted to go for the Entisar. It looked like a strong race on paper but I was sure my horse had improved. He felt like a different horse in the race and what he did was special.”
The 5yo stalked the pace from stall one, travelled best before swooping past the teak-tough Saltarin Dubai and the high class Gronkowski. Fresu and Al Mheiri have a genuine group horse on his hands but Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 was never really under consideration.
“He had two runs in three weeks, the break will have done him good. He is now a very fresh horse at home and looks to have improved again. I will try to ride a similar waiting race; he is drawn in stall one again and the pace in the race is likely to be very strong.”
Dark of Night lines up in the G3 UAE 2000 Guineas. The 3yo isn’t everyone’s cup of tea due to his run style, but nobody can argue with his recent form. Interestingly, this horse was the stable’s second string when me was a close second on his UAE bow back on December 5th.
“I wasn’t sure who to choose in that race to be honest, I guess I felt that Dark of Night wasn’t a good horse. He ran bad the first time I did ride him but I made the mistake of rushing him. He is exactly the same as Mark Of Approval (a horse Fresu won on earlier in the season), just slow, that’s him. He jumps well and then just loses ground. No amount of work at the stalls can fix it. We were hoping that the longer distance in the Al Bastikiya trial would allow him to lay up with the early pace but no; he couldn’t.”
This gelding by Dark Angel will pick up a good race sooner rather than later but he does need the leaders to go fast in order bring his abundant stamina into play.
“The pace will be very strong. Fore Left is very sharp from the gates and he will go forward, Al Modayar is another drawn wide that will be up there along with Laser Show. The faster the pace the better chance we have of picking up the pieces.”
When asked if there was any horse in the stable that have caught his eye in the mornings, Antonio was generous to put forward three.
“Montakhab is a horse that I used to like a lot. We ran him over longer trips but I always felt he was a miler. Tadhg O’Shea rode him last time and he was of the same opinion. He should have strong claims at Jebel Ali on Friday.”
“Casey Jones is very nice horse. He will need the race on Friday in terms of fitness but should show his true colors on his next run.”
“Team Decision ran on the turf at Meydan in January but he is a proper dirt horse and I can’t wait to see what he can do on that surface.”