Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club hosts a six race card on Saturday, undoubtedly highlighted by the second running of the HE Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan Cup, a Prestige Handicap over 1700m worth AED100,000.
The inaugural edition last year was won by Mawahib, fourth in last Friday’s AED5,000,000 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown (Group 1 PA) at Abu Dhabi, trained by Eric Lemartinel for his main patron His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
They have three runners this year seemingly headed by Elyaah, the choice of new stable jockey, Pat Cosgrave. The 4-year-old gelding has only had six career starts, including one win in a 1600m Abu Dhabi maiden on his turf debut in February.
He was then campaigned in good company for his three subsequent starts, all at Abu Dhabi, and most recently the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup Prep at the beginning of the month. He will be making his handicap debut. His first two outings, both in January, were heavy defeats at Al Ain and they remain his only appearances on a dirt surface. Connections will be hoping he bring his turf form to the Sharjah dirt.
Cosgrave said: “It is a good prize and he works nicely on dirt. He improved throughout last season and ran well two weeks ago. This looks a good spot for him and Eric’s horses have been in good form.”
Champion UAE jockey, Tadhg O’Shea, was aboard Mawahib 12 months ago and as retained jockey for owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, partners AF Maher who is trained by Ernst Oertel.
Unbeaten on dirt, after three starts, the first of his (AF Maher) seven career victories was registered in a 1200m Sharjah maiden and on his only subsequent visit the 5-year-old landed the biggest race of the track’s campaign, the HH The Ruler Of Sharjah Trophy, over Saturday’s 1700m. However, he was a lucky winner of that race in February after ES Ajeeb, who was a long way clear, ran out on the home turn.
“You have to admit he was lucky that last time at Sharjah,” O’Shea remarked: “But we do know he likes the surface and stays the trip. We have been very pleased with him at home; hopefully we have a big chance in an open race.”
MH Rahal, trained by Elise Jeanne, chased home AF Maher in that February contest and won his only other outing on dirt, a 1200m course maiden, but the main danger to all could well be Shaddad Al Wathba.
A 4-year-old colt in the care of Helal Al Alawi, he won his only start to date, a 1400m Al Ain maiden in March, by an easy five lengths.
Owned by Yas Horse Racing Management, he has the assistance of their main jockey Richard Mullen.
The only Thoroughbred contest is a 2000m handicap with champion trainer Doug Watson saddling two for Mohd Khalifa Al Basti, who at the start of the weekend leads the owners’ table for this season. Of the pair, Pat Dobbs has elected to partner local debutant Bowden; a 4-year-old gelded son of Street Cry whose US pedigree offers every hope the Sharjah surface will suit him.
Meanwhile, Sam Hitchott rides stable companion Ballad Singer who won the equivalent race last year under Dobbs when Hitchott was third aboard Watson’s Hawker.
“Both are in great shape,” Watson said: “Bowden seems to relish the dirt in his work and is a nice new horse in the yard whereas Ballad Singer is proven over course and distance.
The trainer added: It would be nice to think we have two good chances in a competitive looking field.”
Skygazer was fourth to Ballad Singer in this 12 months ago, having won a course and distance handicap in late November 2016. Prepared by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi, he is the selection of Fernando Jara who could have partnered stable companion Broadcloth, a nice spare ride for Cosgrave.
Satish Seemar and Richard Mullen combined to win last week’s Sharjah Thoroughbred contest, a 1000m handicap with Bedaveeya and they are represented by Press Room who certainly cannot be ruled out in a tricky conundrum for Pick Six players to solve.