Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club hosted the second of their six meetings scheduled for the season on Saturday, a six-race card highlighted by the second edition of the HE Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan Cup, a 1700m Prestige Handicap AED100,000.
When Tadhg O’Shea sent AF Maher clear on the home turn, the feature race looked all over, but his mount appeared to have other ideas; waiting for company entering the straight.
Da’Areen and Royston Ffrench looked to take advantage, leading briefly, before O’Shea was able to motivate his mount again, seeing off that challenge. Clear again, AF Maher was either tiring or again seeking something to race with in the final 100m, allowing Mahfouz to close to within half a length at the wire.
In doing so, AF Maher maintained his unbeaten Sharjah record after three visits and was snagging a second valuable course Prestige prize having fortuitously won the HH Ruler Of Sharjah Cup in February.
It was a third winner on the card for trainer Ernst Oertel and owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda.
“I am glad to have won this one again at least,” said O’Shea, who had landed the inaugural edition of the contest last year aboard Mawahib. I cannot get it right every time, especially with this team who have multiple strong chances in many races. At least I have won the big race and completed a treble for a very supportive owner and trainer.”
The opening 1200m maiden, restricted to 3-year-olds, was won fairly comfortably by AF Hajeej. Never far off the pace with Antonio Fresu riding for trainer Oertel and owner-breeder Al Nabooda, the sophomore drove clear and the race was soon in safe keeping with JAP Malawih closing to take second.
Al Nabooda said: “Ernst trains most of my horses and is very good with these Purebred Arabians foaled in the UAE, which the vast majority of my string are. The trainer was fairly hopeful although, perhaps, we thought AF Mot Hefa had a better chance which is why Tadhg O’Shea rode her. At least we had the winner and Antonio Fresu, who was on several winners for us last season, has given him a great ride.”
An hour later, the same connections were celebrating a double after the easy victory of AF Tareh Al Thahab. Quickly away under Fresu, he never headed in the 1000m maiden, shedding her maiden tag at the fifth attempt after four outings last season. Another Al Nabooda homebred, the 4-year-old filly displayed good early speed then quickened clear more than 400m from home, after which Fresu never had a moment of worry.
Fresu said: “You always know riding for these connections that you have a good chance and I am very grateful for these opportunities.”
Oertel added: “Antonio is a very good jockey, but Tadhg O’Shea is our main one. Here he picked the third, AF Lewaa, who has also run well. It is obviously nice to have a double on the board after just three races.”
Al Nabooda and Oertel were only involved in four of the six races and for the majority of the concluding 1700m handicap, it appeared a clean sweep was on the cards with O’Shea out in front aboard AF Eshaar. However, they proved powerless to deny Jean de Roualle-trained Musanad, who pounced on the home turn with Richard Mullen in the colours of Yas Horse Racing Management.
The 1200m handicap was a thriller with Sam Hitchcott producing 6-year-old mare ES Almas to lead in the final strides, denying the gallant AF Almajhaz. The winner doubled his career tally, both over this course and distance and is trained by Ibrahim Aseel for Sheikh Abdulla bin Majid Al Qassemi, who also bred her.
“Never worried,” Hitchcott quipped. “I actually won a maiden on her here in March last year and we landed that in virtually identical fashion, leading near the line. She has a willing attitude, which is always a big help and, having been off since January, that was a good return to racecourse action for her.”
Sent straight to the front by Fernando Jara, Skygazer never relinquished in the only Thoroughbred race, a 2000m handicap continuing the good early starts to the season of the jockey and his main employer, trainer Ali Rashid Al Rayhi.
A 6-year-old, he has now won five times for Al Rayhi, four in the UAE and once on the turf in China. He was having his third start of the season in a race in which he was fourth 12 months ago behind Ballad Singer, who was third on this occasion. Prior to that, his only previous Sharjah performance was a course and distance handicap victory at the end of November 2016.
“He obviously likes it here at Sharjah,” Al Rayhi said.
“That was a very good ride from Fernando and the horse has really battled for him. He has now won twice here, once at Al Ain, once at Jebel Ali, as well as his turf victory in China, and has been a good servant to the yard.”