The sixth and final meeting of the Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club (SERC) season on Saturday afternoon was highlighted by HH The Ruler of Sharjah Cup, a 1700m Prestige highlight basically thrown away last year by ES Ajeeb, but 12 months later, won in style by the same horse.
With the 2018 renewal at his mercy a year ago, the 5-year-old decided he was not going to enter the home straight, veering sharply across the track and ultimately dumping his regular jockey, Sam Hitchcott, on the Sharjah dirt seemingly aiming for the ‘way home’.
Trained on the Sharjah track by Ibrahim Aseel, the now 5-year-old carries the colours of his breeder, racecourse chairman Sheikh Abdulla bin Majid Al Qassemi and proved a class apart on this occasion, over a trip plenty far enough given he is considered a sprint specialist, but he had lasted home to land the 1400m Group 2 Bani Yas in November on the Meydan dirt surface, so was basically, ‘the class act in the race’.
Well away, he was soon out in front and, despite racing wide down the back straight and on the home turn, he never looked in any danger of defeat.
Aseel said: “This is a great result for everyone involved in this big race here on our home track. This is a very special horse, especially over sprint trips on dirt, but sadly there are few suitable options for him, so we had to stretch him out distance wise. Luckily his class and determination have seen him through on this occasion which, on his ‘home track’, is great for everybody involved.”
Hitchcott, completing a double, added: “As I keep saying this is a very good dirt sprinter, but unfortunately suitably ideal races are just not there, so we have to try him over further or on turf. His class has won that today.”
The only Thoroughbred race, a 1200m handicap went the way of Dangerous Thought, previously a maiden after 24 starts, 19 in the UAE since joining Doug Watson, but with plenty of placed efforts to his name.
Owned by Sheikh Juma Dalmook Al Maktoum, the 6-year-old gelded son of Super Saver was always among the leaders under Pat Dobbs who was able to secure the rail as the pair hit the front, travelling best of all, 300m out. After that they never looked in much danger of being caught and Watson said: “Finally! This horse has threatened a win on many occasions, but is perhaps not the most resolute in a battle, but Dobbsie getting him to the rail has certainly helped.”
The opening 1200m maiden, restricted to those foaled in the UAE, was won in determined fashion by Najem Al Rwasi who was making it ‘third time lucky’ having been well beaten in two previous starts on the Abu Dhabi turf during the last campaign.
Making a belated seasonal debut, on his first start for Hassan Al Hammadi, the 5-year-old was always prominent under Fabrice Veron who drove him to the front about 350m from home. Veron found a willing partner and the duo never appeared likely to be denied, keeping on strongly to land the spoils.
Al Hammadi said: “He had not run since March, so we have to be very pleased with that on what was his first start for us.”
Veron added: “He has shown plenty of speed and clearly taken well to the surface on his first dirt outing.”
The jockey completed a double, ‘book ending’ the card by partnering RB Grynade to a facile success in the final race of the Sharjah season, the Sharjah Marathon, a 2700m handicap, despite his mount, RB Grynade, looking more interested in what was going on among the crowd throughout the final stages, his head almost turned right, as opposed to ahead, in the final stages.
Trained at Al Asayl by Eric Lemartinel for His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the 5-year-old took full advantage of a feather weight to double his career haul having previously only won a 1600m Al Ain maiden on just his second, of now 15 career starts, in January 2017.
Veron said: “I was always travelling well just behind the leaders and when the gap appeared we were able to take full advantage.”
The season’s leading owner, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, always looked likely to be celebrating victory after the 1200m handicap in which his AF Meghwar, ridden by Fernando Jara for Ali Rashid Al Rayhi, led for the majority of the race, but was unable to repel the late challenge of AF Mafaten, ridden by Tadhg O’Shea for Al Nabooda and his main trainer, Ernst Oertel. This was a milestone victory for the jockey who celebrated his 500th UAE win.
O’Shea said: “If you had told me in 2001 when I first arrived I would ride 500 winners I would have not believed you and laughed. I have been very lucky to ride for some great owners and trainers over the years without whom I obviously would not be celebrating this landmark.”
The 6-year-old winning mare was shedding her maiden tag at the tenth attempt and Al Nabooda said: “As I keep saying I have a strong team behind me with Ernst and Tadhg. This mare has been showing a lot of speed in her races, so we hoped the drop in trip would suit and, luckily, it has worked out well.”
Owner and trainer were celebrating a double just 30 minutes later, but this time it was Hitchcott in the saddle aboard AF Taraha who claimed the prize in a 1700m handicap. Settled just behind the leaders, the 6-year-old mare was sent to the front on the home turn and stayed on strongly to double her career tally, her previous success registered on her second start, in the 1800m Al Ain Derby over 1800m.
Hitchcott said: “This was a lovely spare ride because, for these connections, you always know you hold good claims and, luckily, that proved to be the case.”