01/05/2017 4:32PM

Le Bernardin repeats in Round 1 of Al Maktoum Challenge

Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club
Le Bernardin scores by two lengths under Tadgh O’Shea in Round 1 of the Al Maktoum Challenge.

It was a good start to the Dubai World Cup Carnival for trainer Ali al Raihy, who saddled Le Bernardin to win the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 for the second year in a row. Al Raihy also trains Ertijaal, one of the top turf sprinters in Dubai, who got his campaign started with a sharp win in a handicap Thursday night at Meydan Racecourse.

Le Bernardin, an 8-year-old American-bred by Bernardini who began his career five years ago racing in New York, has been around the block. This is his fourth winter racing in Dubai, but time has not yet taken its toll on the gelding. Le Bernardin raced close to the pace and scored a narrow victory a year ago in the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1, but on Thursday night he settled a little farther off the pace and had to come around horses in the homestretch en route to a more decisive two-length victory under Tadgh O’Shea.

“It was a better race than it was last year, on paper anyway,” O’Shea said. I thought I was going to go gallop, but it was a bit of a rush down the back, and I was content to sit behind. This horse is genuine, no chinks in his armor. He makes my job very easy. I think people think they can beat him if they take him on early but he doesn’t have to be in front. He’s an-all around pro.”

Long River, a longshot, finished second, a neck in front of Lindo Amor, who turned in a solid performance for trainer Mike de Kock making his Dubai debut after being imported from Argentina. The filly Polar River, who had been so impressive last winter, failed to improve in her second start back from a long layoff and could only finish eighth. Also disappointing was Emotionless, a Group 1 winner two years ago who was making his dirt debut and first start in Dubai for Godolphin.

On a fast-playing dirt track, Le Bernardin clocked 1:36 for 1,600 meters, bettering the 1:37.12 it took him to complete the distance a year ago.

O’Shea, who said he rides Le Bernardin for al Rayhi most mornings, said the one-mile distance is Le Bernardin’s best, and the hope is to get him to the $1 million Godolphin Mile on the World Cup card in good order. Le Bernardin was forced to miss that race last March.

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One race earlier, Ertijaal, under Paul Hanagan, had made short work of a five-furlong, straight-course turf-sprint handicap, winning off by four lengths in a dominant performance. Ertijaal was the leading turf sprinter last winter in Dubai, and capped an excellent season with a second-place finish in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint, and from the appearance of his performance Thursday, he is much the same horse at age 6.

Mizbah, trained by Doug Watson, shot to the front and scored a dirt-track record-setting win in the first Thoroughbred race on the card, a 1,900 meter handicap. The 8-year-old Mizbah was timed in 1:56.51, breaking Frosted’s track record from last winter, while winning by 7 1/2 lengths. The Argentine import Saltarin Dubai was a one-paced and modest sixth in his Dubai debut for trainer Mike de Kock.

Another de Kock-trained Argentine, Lindo Amor, ran better, finishing third behind Le Bernardin, and the Dubai debuting Light The Lights won his first start outside South Africa in race 6, a 1,800-meter turf handicap. A Group 2 winner, Light The Lights made a sustained run under Christophe Soumillon, who had a double Thursday, to nip Championship.

Flash Fire closed the card with an eye-catching outside rally in a 1,400-meter grass handicap which he won by 2 1/2 lengths in a fine 1:23.01. Charlie Appleby trains Flash Fire, a 5-year-old gelding, for Godolphin.