The inaugural running of the GCC Cup was the highlight of Saturday afternoon’s race meeting at the Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club (SERC) and the AED200,000 new initiative went to Saudi Arabia.
Trainer Mutlaq bin Mashref saddling both first and second in a thrilling contest, with Mubasher Al Khalediah denying stable companion Nader Al Khalediah.
In doing so, the 4-year-old, who received weight from his ten rivals since he was the youngest horse in the field, reversed form with his stablemate and also ensured Bin Mashref has saddled the winner of every UAE race in which he has been represented. The trainer’s sole previous local runner having been Tallaab Al Khalediah who won last year’s Group 1 Kahayla Classic on the Dubai World Cup card at Meydan last March.
Ridden by Abdullah Al Fairoz, the winner was in the right place when the trainer’s third runner, Moheb Al Khalediah, who had led from the outset, almost stopped early in the straight, seemingly hampering AF Maher and perhaps not helping the chances of Nader Al Khalediah who stayed on strongly, but could not get to his stablemate.
Bin Mashref said: “We came here thinking of nothing else but victory, so we brought some of our strongest horses because we wanted to go for the historic title and then work towards the Dubai Kahayla Classic. That said, none of these will go to the Kahayla Classic, but we do have Tallab Al Khalediah and Murad Al Khalediah who will.”
Jockey Al Fairoz, added: “It feels great to have won this title, which is a first ever race, on my first ride here in the UAE. It was a great race and the horse performed very well, so I am delighted.”
A 1700m race with Prestige status and restricted to horses foaled within the GCC countries, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and, of course, the UAE, the inaugural GCC Cup must be considered a success with four runners from Saudi Arabia with one representing Oman among the 11 runners.
The maximum field allowed of 16 may have contested the 1200m handicap, but very few were ever able to land a blow, and once Arif swept past AF Meeqat just after the halfway point the race, as a contest, was basically over.
Ridden by Szczepan Mazur for trainer Younis Al Kalbani and sporting the distinctive silks of the Omani Royal Cavalry, the 6-year-old entire was recording his third career victory. It was also a breakthrough for Arif at the eighth attempt on a dirt surface, having previously won twice over 1600m then 1400m on the Abu Dhabi turf in consecutive outings in February and March 2017.
Mazur said: “The yard have been in good form all season and this horse, last time I rode him three starts ago, showed plenty of speed over 1000m at Al Ain, so we hoped this first attempt at 1200m would suit him and it has. He has shown how versatile he is, both in trip and regarding surface, so it should give the trainer plenty of options.”
An hour later, Mazur was back in the winner’s enclosure after his bolt tactics paid dividends in the only Thoroughbred race on the card, a 2000m handicap in which, after a tardy start he drove Call Sign to the front and the pair did not see another of their 14 rivals thereafter.
Seemingly able to give his mount a breather on the far straight, Mazur committed the 7-year-old entire son of Medaglia D’Oro for home entering the home turn and they shot clear to record a comfortable success, the second of the horse’s career. Formerly trained by Eion Harty for Godolphin, his one previous victory was over 1700m at Presque Isle Downs on Tapeta in June 2015.
He missed all of 2016 and only made his local debut for current handler, Rashed Bouresly right at the end of 2017. This was his tenth start for new connections, the best of which previously was when finishing second over 1400m at Jebel Ali last March.
Mazur said: “The trainer seemed quite confident and told me to be positive, especially at this track which suits such tactics and it all worked out perfectly.”
The opening 1200m maiden restricted to horses foaled in the UAE, was won quite impressively by debutant ES Ma’Rouf who was always at the head of affairs of those drawn high before grabbing the overall lead, from SS Jalmod, with about 350m to run after which he never looked in danger of being caught. Homebred by Sheikh Abdulla bin Majid Al Qassemi, the SERC chairman, the 5-year-old is trained on the track by Ibrahim Aseel and was ridden by Sam Hitchcott, the top Sharjah jockey in each of the last two seasons and again leading this way during this campaign.
Hitchcott, partnering his sixth course winner this season, said: “That was a decent performance because he was quite green, so should improve for the outing and experience. He showed plenty of speed to race prominently and then ran on strongly to win well. Hopefully he can build on this.”
Again, only those horses born locally were eligible for the 2000m maiden which involved only one horse from a long way out with Tadhg O’Shea taking AF Eshaar straight to the head of affairs, a lead they never looked likely to relinquish. Homebred by Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda and trained by Ernst Oertel, the 5-year-old was registering his first success at the ninth attempt.
Al Nabooda, who retains the eservices of O’Shea, said: “As I keep saying I have a great team behind me with Ernst and Tadhg, so have been lucky to enjoy plenty of winners again this season; they are both experts with these local Purebred Arabians.”
O’Shea added: “I rode this horse over 1800m last time at Al Ain when he was third, but just kept plugging on, so I knew this trip would suit and was always going to be positive. Luckily everything went to plan and I am delighted for Mr Al Nabooda who puts so much into these local horses, as well as Ernst whose team have had these horses in such good form all season.”
O’Shea is going to have to work particularly hard if he wants to defend his jockeys’ title and remains one winner behind Richard Mullen after the latter landed the 1700m handicap aboard MH Tawag for Elise Jeanne and her main patron, Mansoor Khalifa Sultan bin Habtoor who also bred the 7-year-old entire. The pair were also responsible for the third home, MH Areeb, who was staying on resolutely under Antonio Fresu.
It was a fifth career success for the horse, but a first on a dirt surface, on which he was racing for an eighth time and he and Mullen were following up a 2200m victory at Abu Dhabi two weeks ago.
“As I said at Abu Dhabi the other day,” Mullen reported.
“Elise may not have that many horses, but she does very well with the small string she does have and you always know you have a chance riding for her. That return to the winner’s enclosure last time seems to have boosted his confidence and he was always traveling well today, so knowing stamina was not an issue, I was able to stay slightly wider and then commit for a home a long way out.”