Racing at the Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club on Saturday afternoon is highlighted by the inaugural running of an exciting new initiative, the AED200,000 The GCC Cup (Prestige).
The 1700m race is restricted to horses foaled within the GCC countries—namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and, of course, the UAE.
Four runners from Saudi Arabia have been declared, with three trained by Mutlaq bin Mashref whose only previous UAE runner, Tallaab Al Khalediah, won last year’s Group 1 Kahayla Classic on the Dubai World Cup card at Meydan last March.
Of Mutlaq’s three runners, with an official rating of 113, Nader Al Khalediah appears his main chance and is the choice of jockey Mohammed Al Daham. The 7-year-old arrives here having won his two most recent outings in December and January, both over 1600m. His record now stands at four wins from eight outings.
Among those from the UAE, AF Mahshoum represents the same team as Al Zahir, winner of last Sunday’s Group 1 HH The President Cup. Trained by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi for His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, retained rider Jim Crowley is in the saddle. Bred by Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, for whom he initially raced, the 6-year-old was well beaten by Al Zahir in that race last week, but has shown promise at Sharjah in the past.
Al Rayhi said: “He ran well for a long way last week and came out of the race in good form. He likes Sharjah, so hopefully can run well again in what looks a strong race.”
The Al Nabooda silks will be carried by Tadhg O’Shea aboard AF Maher, twice a course and distance winner in Prestige races and trained by Ernst Oertel.
O’Shea said: “Obviously the conditions suit him, but this is a tough race, especially with the horses from Saudi Arabia, but it is an exciting new initiative and Sharjah should be applauded for creating the concept.”
For His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Eric Lemartinel relies on Shaheer whose three career victories were all achieved consecutively on the Abu Dhabi turf in 2015. He too contested in the HH The President Cup, finishing eighth, but his form on dirt leaves him a bit to find unless the first visit to Sharjah proves an inspired move.
The venue is the main positive for the chances of JAP Yajoud whose three previous trips to the UAE’s least heralded, but greatly appreciated racecourse, have yielded a first, second and third. However, in the green silks of Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum, Irfan Ellahi’s charge looks an unlikely winner if the Saudi horses fire.
The only Thoroughbred race is a 2000m handicap which has attracted the maximum allowed field of 16 with four reserves waiting in the wings and hoping for a late call up.
It looks a wide-open contest with no less than seven of the runners sharing the burden of top weight. This includes the Erwan Charpy-trained duo of Cranesbill and Thaaqib, the latter to be ridden by Crowley for Sheikh Hamdan. With the yard in good form, both need to be considered by Pick Six players.
Others sharing top weight include the Mohd Khalifa Al Basti-owned pair of Hello and Sheeba, trained by Al Rayhi and Doug Watson respectively, both of which are not without a chance.