'Aeroplane' Ertijaal could soon be jetting off around the world
Jim Crowley described Ertijaal as “an aeroplane” after his win in the Meydan Sprint last week.
It’s ironic as an aeroplane is the one thing that has been conspicuously absent from the sprinter’s career since he hit the big time.
For the last three seasons he’s led a successful but sheltered existence in the United Arab Emirates, but there must be a chance that last week’s hugely impressive victory will persuade connections to show him off around the world this year.
Since 2014 he’s run at just two tracks, Meydan and Abu Dhabi. Nine of his ten starts in that time came in the months of January and February. The other was in March.
But, although he’s enjoyed an easy programme, kicking his heels for ten months a year, he has taken those limited opportunities to prove himself a real force at the highest level of world sprinting.
He first raised eyebrows by winning a pair of valuable Meydan handicaps under big weights last year before stepping up to Group 1 company and finishing second to Australian star Buffering in the Al Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup night.
He finished last season with a peak RPR of 120 and has improved again this year, winning another valuable handicap off an even higher mark – and just as easily – on his penultimate start. Then he won his first graded race at Meydan last week.
He was 4-7 favourite for the Meydan Sprint on Thursday when the only real question was whether he could be as monstrous as he has been in handicaps at level weights.
If he had failed to impress in graded company we might have labelled him a ‘weight-carrier’. You sometimes get these in 5f races and it simply means the weight on their back does not hinder their speed as much as you might expect and therefore their handicap form can look deceptively good.
But, as it happens, he improved again in the Group 3 race, winning easily with a freakish burst of speed taking him well clear of his rivals in the final furlong to record the quickest ever time over 5f at Meydan – 55.90sec.
An RPR of 123 for this success ranks him as the best sprinter in the world at this very early stage of the year, ahead of the leading Hong Kong speedballs and Saturday’s Black Caviar Lightning winner Terravista (120).
The Dubai sprint programme has changed slightly this year, which means he will probably have to step up to 6f for his next start in either the Nad Al Sheba Sprint on Super Saturday or the Al Quoz Sprint (switched from 5f to 6f this year) on World Cup night.
With winning form over 7f, he should handle the extra distance, although speed is clearly his forte and there’s no telling whether he’ll be quite as potent over the longer sprint distance as he hasn’t run beyond the minimum trip for two years.
Beyond that connections should be looking global. Regular partner Crowley says he’s up with the best sprinters he’s ever ridden and there should be opportunities on the international circuit for a horse this fast if connections fancy it.
How he gets on over 6f next time will give us a better idea of potential targets. If he sees it out well, something like the King’s Stand Stakes over the undulating straight 5f at Royal Ascot could be worth a look. The ten-year average RPR for winners of that race stands at 121, so he’s already thereabouts.
If things go to plan next month and connections wanted to get really adventurous, they could even grab a ticket for the world’s richest turf race, the Everest, set to be run at Randwick in October.
Owner Hamdan Al Maktoum has an international racing portfolio and a global outlook, so overseas trips must be in his mind with Ertijaal, who has just turned six, suggesting this could be his time to shine.