The only Thoroughbred race on the card, the HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Cup, a 1700m handicap with a tasty Dh200,000 prize fund, is the undoubted highlight among the six races and, unsurprisingly, a strong field, both in terms of quality and quantity has been confirmed.
The weights are headed by Sheikh Ahmed’s Shamikh who appeared to have a big future ahead of him when making a successful debut, as a 3yo, over 1400m on ‘home dirt’, up the Jebel Ali hill. A disappointing effort at Meydan was then followed by two more Jebel Ali victories, over 1400m then 1600m before something of a damp squib effort back up the hill over 1400m.
A very promising return last season, on his turf debut in Abu Dhabi preceded a rather flat effort back in the capital. A brief campaign concluded back at Jebel Ali, not disgraced but beaten almost nine lengths, in a decent quality conditions race. That was on Boxing Day last year. Now a 5yo, the gelded son of Lea made a very pleasing return, on his first start for Michael Costa, when finding only the very useful Tenbury Wells too strong in a 1600m handicap.
That too was at Jebel Ali, three weeks ago and 1700m here at Sharjah is arguably less of a stamina test than 1600m up the hill. The race was inaugurated as recently as 2018 and Doug Watson, seeking a third consecutive victory in the contest, was responsible for a quarter of the 20 entries received by the Emirates Racing Authority (ERA) and looks to hold strong claims.
His Faithful Soldier will be having only his sixth career start, needing to bounce back from a rare blip in his fledgling career to date when well beaten on his seasonal return, over 1600m on the Meydan dirt, his first outing for 351 days.
A 4yo gelded son of Not This Time, he has clearly not been the easiest to train and ran just once last season, winning over 1400m on the same surface. As a juvenile, he won the middle of three starts and would appear to have limitless untapped potential. Watson also saddles Far Sky, who is the pick of first choice rider Pat Dobbs, leaving Sam Hitchcott to partner Faithful Soldier, while Dane O’Neill climbs aboard the yard’s third runner, Scabbard.
From the three entered, Bhupat Seemar has declared them all, Tadhg O’Shea giving his show of confidence to George Villiers, stable apprentice Connor Planas aboard Saqqara King and Pitcher’s Point a spare ride for Antonio Fresu Somewhat surprisingly, Anizzah scraped in at the foot of the weights and looks to hold leading claims for Ahmad bin Harmash and Ray Dawson.
Busker’s track record was established well back at the beginning of December 2011 but, such is the quality on show, the stopwatch at Longines Sharjah Racecourse may be stopped in double quick time. For Salem bin Ghadayer, Royston Ffrench partners Orientalism with Xavier Ziani in the saddle on stablemate Trumpet Man while Rashed Bouresly has three chances, Shanty Star perhaps his best hope under Richard Mullen.
The best of the five Purebred Arabian contests would appear to be a handicap in which, from a pair of runners to be saddled by Ernst Oertel for Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, Tadhg O’Shea sides with AF Musannef. Such is the popularity of the track and quality of its surface, this Sharjah card attracted a total of 164 entries, an average of 27.33 per race, boosted by no less than 46 put forward for the opening 1200m maiden for horses foaled in the UAE.
Race 1: Khalaf Al Wathba
Race 2: JAP Daeyab
Race 3: AF Hajeej (Nap)
Race 4: Maaly Al Reef
Race 5: Shamikh
Race 6: Majdi (NB)