Saturday’s sixth and final meeting of the Sharjah season featured their biggest race of the campaign, 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.”