Saturday’s sixth and final meeting of the Sharjah season featured their biggest race of the campaign, HH The Ruler Of Sharjah Trophy, a 1700m Prestige race and surely one of the most dramatic contests ever staged at the track.
ES Ajeeb, who had been very reluctant to load, was soon out in front under Sam Hitchcott and from a long way out clearly had the beating of his ten rivals.
However exiting the home turn, probably a dozen lengths clear, he refused to enter the straight, instead almost turning right and going the wrong way.
Unfortunately the jockey Sam Hitchcott was unseated, giving him no chance of maintaining the partnership.
MH Rahal was left in front, challenged by AF Maher, who under Antonio Fresu then proceeded to drift very wide at the top of the straight.
Once straightened out he ran on well, whereas MH Rahal appeared to be stopping under Connor Beasley.
In the end Fresu’s mount completing a double for Ernst Oertel and Champion Owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda.
The horse has now won all three of his outings on dirt and was winning for the fourth time this season.
Fresu said: “I thought I might finish second because the leader was well clear but suddenly veered off leaving us with a good chance.
“My horse has then drifted off the inside rail and headed for the outside one, but in fairness responded well in the final 200m once I corrected him.”
The winning jockey added: “It is obviously nice to win the biggest race of the Sharjah campaign and I thank connections for the opportunities they have afforded me this season.”
The opening 1200m maiden attracted the maximum field of 16 but from the outset only three of the runners ever looked a likely winner.
Antonio Fresu was soon in front aboard AF Shuzza, tracked by his stable companion AF Amjad along with Aasif Al Rawasi, originally the first reserve.
Just after halfway Fresu’s mount weakened quickly at which point Tadhg O’Shea drove debutant AF Amjad to lead and they never looked in any danger, despite Aasif Al Rawasi plugging on gamely for Connor Beasley.
Trained by Oertel the winner, like AF Maher, was also bred by Al Nabooda and O’Shea said: “I have enjoyed a lot of success over many years in these colours, as well as for Ernst, and you always know when riding one for them you have a chance.”
O’Shea added: “It was a good winning debut and the horse is only going to improve for the experience.”
The final race, the Sharjah Marathon, a 2700m handicap lacked the drama of the feature much to the relief of Hitchcott who led for the final circuit aboard The Secret.
Trained by Doug Watson for His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the eight-year-old could safely be described as a course specialist; all six career wins have been registered here and he was winning this race for the third consecutive year.
These have been his only victories since December 2015 when he completed a rapid course hat-trick.
Watson said: “He just loves it at Sharjah where everything obviously suits him and Sam has given him a very good ride this afternoon.
“Obviously, given his course record and, particularly, in this race, we had to be quite hopeful and he has delivered again.”
The Secret has actually now won the Sharjah Marathon under three different jockeys with Paul Hanagan aboard in 2016 and Jim Crowley doing the steering last year.
The only Thoroughbred contest, a 1200m handicap, produced a trip down memory lane for local race enthusiasts with Brett Doyle a dual UAE Champion Jockey just over 20 years ago, riding his first winner of the season for his old employer Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
A two-time UAE champion Doyle is currently here as a work rider for Godolphin and Charlie Appleby, but also rides occasionally.
He finished second for Godolphin at Meydan on Thursday aboard Eynhallow, his only Dubai World Cup Carnival appearance this year.
Doyle produced some of his old magic when riding Hidden Journey for Gopi Selvaratnam.
He was never far off the pace, initially set by Richard Mullen aboard Al Boraq.
They were headed by Pat Dobbs on Dangerous Thought who looked the likely winner until Doyle mustered a final challenge from Hidden Journey who was losing his maiden tag at the eighth attempt and sixth locally.
Doyle said: “It is brilliant to ride a winner for Sheikh Ahmed having enjoyed so much success for him in the past.”
“My time at Jebel Ali, riding for Gopi’s brother, Dhruba, was a real springboard for me and an opportunity I have always been very grateful for.”
Doyle then looked set to complete a rapid double when going clear on JAP Yajoud in the 1700m handicap but his mount tired in the final 100m and was caught, close home, by ES Kwashi, a first winner of the season for his ever enthusiastic trainer, Mohd Ramadan.
For jockey Bernardo Pinheiro, it was a second UAE victory in his first local season, while the horse was winning for a third time, having completed an Al Ain double in early 2016, highlighted by the Al Ain Derby.
Ramadan said: “This horse won the big race for us at Al Ain a couple of years ago and was then just denied here in the Ruler’s Trophy so I am delighted to see him win again. Hopefully now he has put his head back in front he can do so again, perhaps back at Al Ain where I train.”
With a full field of 16 facing the starter, the 1200m handicap looked competitive on paper, but in reality proved fairly straightforward for Malab who was soon at the head of affairs under Connor Beasley.
Plenty tried to go with her, but the 5-year-old mare had all her rivals in trouble entering the final 400m and ran on strongly to provide trainer Elise Jeanne a fifth winner this season.
Malab was recording her second victory of both the current campaign and her career having also landed a maiden over the same course and distance in December.
Jeanne said: “She is a lovely mare, so tough and genuine. She has run well at Al Ain in the past but does seem to save her best for here at Sharjah. I am delighted she has won again for her owner and breeder Khalid Saleh Ahmed Nasser Al Malahi.”
Saturday’s seven-race card is the latter half of a 2018 Dubai World Cup Carnival double header this weekend at Meydan Racecourse, highlighted by the Balanchine (G2) and Firebreak Stakes (G3).
Each race is worth US$200,000 and respectively could have Dubai World Cup implications.
Restricted to fillies and mares and on turf, the 1800m Balanchine Sponsored by Azizi Developments has attracted a field of eight, six of whom contested the 1600m Group 2 Cape Verdi three weeks ago.
That was won in style by Godolphin’s Promising Run (post 6, Patrick Cosgrave), a fifth winner in the first of the carnival’s two fillies and mares’ contests for Saeed bin Suroor.
The trainer has won the Balanchine three times and twice with runners who had previously landed the Cape Verdi – a double which has been completed four times.
A 5-year-old, Promising Run also won the Al Rashidiya (G2) last year, over Saturday’s 1800m course and distance and is also a Group race winner in both England and Turkey.
She will have to overcome a penalty here, but looks the one to beat under Pat Cosgrave.
“She has been working very well since her win in the Cape Verdi and has improved during the three weeks between races,” bin Suroor said.
“She is a really popular horse in the yard and has won five times for us in three different countries.
“Hopefully she can add to our good record in the Balanchine, which includes a win with Sajjhaa in 2013.
“She was a real star that year, also winning the Cape Verdi as well as Group One races, the Jebel Hatta on Super Saturday and Dubai Turf on World Cup night,” bin Suroor continued.
“It would be nice if Promising Run could achieve something similar.”
From England, Opal Tiara (post 2, Silvestre De Sousa) won the Balanchine last year for Mick Channon and will bid to become the first dual winner of the race.
Second in the 2017 Cape Verdi, she was fourth in this year’s renewal, having already filled the same position behind another Godolphin horse Benbatl, in the Singspiel Stakes (G3) over this 1800m course and distance.
Silvestre de Sousa has ridden her in both starts this season and maintains the partnership.
“She ran very well in the Singspiel and this 1800m suits her better than the 1600m of the Cape Verdi,” De Sousa said.
“She seems in good form and should go well with Promising Run looking the one to beat.”
Third in the Cape Verdi was Aljuljalah (post 8, Mickael Barzalona), staying on well and pleasing trainer Salem bin Ghadayer in the process.
“She is a mare we really like and that was only her fourth start for us,” bin Ghadayer said.
“It was a very good run and suggested the extra 200m on Saturday will suit her.”
Earlier in the night’s third race, six will go to post in a key Godolphin Mile (G2) prep, the 1600m Firebreak Stakes Sponsored by Azizi Developments.
Heavy Metal (post 3, Mickael Barzalona) tops the lot on recent form and is seeking his seventh victory on the Meydan dirt and sixth over this 1600m.
Penalised for his 1600m Al Maktoum Challenge R1 (G2) victory on the first night of the carnival, the 8-year-old is back in action quickly after finishing third in last week’s 1900m Al Maktoum Challenge R2 (G2).
Bin Ghadayer, who also saddles dirt debutant Richard Pankhurst (post 5, Xavier Ziani), said: “Heavy Metal is one of the best horses in the yard and probably found the trip a bit far last week, he should go close.
“Richard Pankhurst is having just his third run for us and first on dirt.
“His work on it has been good, so hopefully he will handle it.”
Another trying dirt for the first time is Godolphin’s Bravo Zolo (post 1, William Buick), trained by Charlie Appleby.
Second on the first night of the carnival in a 1400m handicap, he was then third in the 1800m Al Rashidiya (G2).
“He has run well twice this year but we really think 1600m is his optimum trip so this looked a good chance to try him on the dirt,” Appleby.
“He works well enough on it so if he takes to it, he should be a major player on his best form.”
Proven on the dirt, and a course and distance winner for trainer Doug Watson, Cosmo Charlie (post 4, Sam Hitchcott) is having his first start since being gelded.
He won the 1900m Al Bastakiya (Listed), a race restricted to 3-year-olds and the middle leg of the UAE Triple Crown on Super Saturday last year.
“Hopefully gelding him will help him relax, as he could get a bit worked up at the races,” Watson said.
“We are drawn outside Heavy Metal who I assume will want to lead, so we may try and track him through.
“We are pleased with him at home, so hopefully he is going to be competitive in a tough little race.”
The Dubai Equestrian Club will hold a unique FEI Endurance CEI2* 120km ride on Wednesday, November 15 based on the concept of a staggered start.
This is the first of its kind for a CEI2* 120km event worldwide, and will be conducted at the purpose-built Dubai International Endurance City.
Usually FEI rides feature a mass start, where all participants leave together, and the first to finish is declared winner. In this case flexibility is key and the riders will be allowed to start within a broad window spanning across almost two hours, at their own convenience.
The advantage of a staggered start is also that riders are able to ride alone or with a preferred group and therefore are able to pace themselves, which allows for optimal performance.
Over 400 entries have been received for this FEI-CEI2* 120 km ride. The horses will be examined on the same morning at 6:00 and following registration the riders and horses will be able to embark upon the 120km ride according to the official timings.
With a total of four loops, the first is 40km, the second is 35km, the third 27km, and the final loop is 18km.
DEC General manager Mohammed Essa said “We are pleased to offer riders and horse connections this unique and wonderful opportunity to compete in an FEI – CEI2* 120km ride, where they compete in the best possible conditions, offering great flexibility despite having a pretty large field of over 400 competitors.
“Our effort is to accommodate large number of participants with no restrictions in terms of entering as long as they fulfil the eligibility conditions. This encourages extraordinary performances, and helps the horse rider pairings to produce some top-class timings.
“We are constantly striving to provide our riders and horses with better facilities and opportunities to help grow the sport of endurance riding, and set the standard locally and on the global stage. This is one step in that direction.”