Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club stage their penultimate fixture of 2018 on Saturday afternoon, hosting a six-race card undoubtedly highlighted by the only Thoroughbred race, the HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Cup, a 1700m handicap worth AED100,000.
A maximum field of 16 is declared, with the weights headed by Nathr, one of three in the race for champion trainer Doug Watson and a genuine Dubai World Cup Carnival performer in his pomp.
Owned by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the 7-year-old entire son of Dixie Union has won four times in the UAE, with his best effort in defeat when chasing home Heavy Metal in a 1600m Meydan handicap in February 2017.
Heavy Metal has won five of his eight subsequent outings, including the 2018 Al Maktoum Challenge R1 (Group 2) and Godolphin Mile (Group 2).
Watson also saddles Pat Dobbs-ridden Trenchard for Mohd Khalifa Al Basti. Seeking a first local victory on what will be his fourth outing, the charge was previously trained by Mike de Kock last season.
Runner-up on three of his five UAE outings, he arguably deserves a change of luck with Mutamakkin, for the EERC (Emirates Entertainment Racing Club), completing the Watson trio under George Buckell.
“Nathr has not really fired this season but is in good form at home and we all know he has plenty of ability. Hopefully he can bounce back and this looked a good spot for him,” Watson said.
“Trenchard had been running well until a slightly disappointing effort but is working very well and must have a decent shout in an open race.”
On behalf of EERC, Justin Byrne said: “To be honest we were disappointed with Mutamakkin’s last run, but the sharp bend at Jebel Ali probably did not seem to suit him. He is a horse we really like and, after Saturday, will probably go to Meydan. We will also look for something for him on the Abu Dhabi turf.”
With a handicap rating of 90, connections must still harbour Carnival hopes for Nathr, but Sam Hitchcott rides because Dane O’Neill, retained by Sheikh Hamdan, has opted to ride the owner’s Takatul for Musabbeh Al Mheiri.
A homebred 5-year-old gelded son of Smart Strike, on 89, he is on the cusp of a Carnival rating. A win here would certainly propel him in said territory. Victorious on four occasions in Britain for Charlie Hills, he will be hoping to make it third time lucky locally having twice finished runner-up at Jebel Ali.
O’Neill said: “These choices are never easy, but Takatul has done little wrong in those two Jebel Ali outings, is pleasing his trainer at home and should be suited by Sharjah. Hopefully I have picked the right one.”
Al Mheiri’s stable jockey Ben Curtis rides Abjar making his local and dirt debut having arrived in the UAE via Sir Michael Stoute, for whom he registered his sole victory on the Wolverhampton all-weather.
Also doubly represented is Satish Seemar, with Richard Mullen choosing Invincible Strike, leaving Tadhg O’Shea to partner Mawhub, who is returning from 702 days off. Mullen’s mount was a 1600m Jebel Ali winner on this weekend last year, but has not been seen since beating just one of 15 rivals over 1400m at Meydan in early January.
For Erwan Charpy, Antonio Fresu has opted for Aleko, behind Takatul on his two outings this season but twice a Jebel Ali handicap winner last season, over 1600m in February and 1800m a month later.
Fabric Veron picks up the spare ride on Charpy’s Silver Look who ran just four times on her debut local season earlier this year, but was seemingly disappointing on her one outing during this campaign. A 5-year-old Archipenko mare, two of her four victories, all in South America, were actually at Grade 2 level on dirt and a repeat of that level of form would make her a serious danger to all in this.
Sharing bottom weight, Skygazer has been a revelation since switching to positive tactics, winning both his two latest outings under Fernando Jara, over 1950m at Jebel Ali most recently having won a 2000m handicap at Sharjah previously.
The best of the Purebred Arabian action is the finale, a 2000m handicap and another full field of 16 is set to face the starter including three trained at Al Asayl by Eric Lemartinel for His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Of the trio, Pat Cosgrave has opted to partner Tawazun, a 1600m Al Ain maiden winner on his penultimate start before struggling on the Abu Dhabi turf three weeks ago.
Also triply represented is owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, for whom Al Rayhi saddles AF Al Mehleb, the mount of Jara and narrowly denied on his seasonal debut, over 1400m at Al Ain but well beaten on the same track over 2000m most recently.
The other two Al Naboodah contenders are prepared by Ernst Oertel and O’Shea has elected to ride AF Taraha, a 5-year-old mare with one victory on her resume, the 1800m Al Ain Derby (Prestige) in February 2017. Well beaten on her seasonal return over 2000m at Al Ain, she did too much too soon on that occasion, weakening quickly having led to halfway. She was ridden on that occasion by Richard Mullen who is aboard stable companion AF Al Montaqem for the same owner but remains a maiden after 11 starts.
MH Reyah E’Shemal was a course and distance winner on her seasonal return and penultimate start for Elise Jeanne. Homebred by Mansoor Khalifa Sultan bin Habtoor, the 4-year-old filly was subsequently well beaten on turf at Abu Dhabi but back at Sharjah should be thereabouts under Connor Beasley.