The Group 3 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup over 1600m was the official highlight at Abu Dhabi on Sunday evening and it produced not only a thrilling finish but an unforgettable one for trainer Eric Lemartinel who saddled three of the eight runners.
They promptly filled the first three places home with the lead actually chasing twice in the dying strides; initially Gerald Avranche and RB Burn finally managing to get past Hamza, who tried valiantly to make all under Jesus Rosales, only to be caught themselves by Tadhg O’Shea aboard Darius Du Paon.
Sporting the colours of HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, O’Shea could not have timed his challenge better on a horse who had finished second three times and third once on his four turf outings, having won both his starts on dirt.
He won by a short-head from RB Burn with just a neck back to Hamza, who 50m out looked likely to hold on, in third.
A delighted O’Shea said: “He is a lovely big horse who ideally wants further but we knew there would be a good gallop which helped me, especially receiving so much weight from RB Burn.
“With that fast pace and the weight difference my horse has probably outstayed the second who, to be honest, I thought would be very hard to beat but it is a great result for Al Asayl, Eric and the whole team.”
Pat Cosgrave is enjoying a prolific start to the season and was at his best when giving Hawkesbury an ultra-confident ride to win the 1600m Listed National Day Cup, the only Thoroughbred race on the card.
Runner-up three weeks ago, in the course and distance prep, he was one of about a dozen runners still holding a chance at the top of the straight.
Closing to challenge, he was in the right place to benefit when early leader, Montataire, started to weaken just over 200m out, leaving a gap on the rail.
Cosgrave drove his mount through the opening and the pair burst clear, never really looking likely to be caught, with a plethora of hard luck stories in behind.
That did not matter to Cosgrave though, riding his 13th winner of the campaign, this on a spare ride for Satish Seemar whose stable jockey, Richard Mullen, chose to partner Eavesdropper, one of several who suffered a torturous passage.
Assistant trainer, Bhupat Seemar, said: “That was only Hawkesbury’s fourth start for us and he was an excellent second in the prep here three weeks ago.
“It was a tough choice for Richard and Eavesdropper could not get a run, but Hawkesbury was well drawn in three and Pat has given him a great ride, waiting for that gap on the rail.
“He is a very nice horse and we will look towards Meydan and the Dubai World Cup Carnival with him.”
Cosgrave added: “He ran very well in the prep and has obviously improved with that run under his belt. He can hang to the right so I was keen to get to the rail on him and, luckily, the gap opened when I needed it.”
Mullen gained some compensation when always in control, from the front, aboard Extra Hope, completing a double for Seemar, in a 1200m handicap. The pair had landed a 1000m handicap at Al Ain on their most recent start, just nine days ago, providing a welcome winner for owner Ali Haddad who has not enjoyed much luck in recent seasons.
“It is always great to ride a winner in these colours for Ali Haddad who is such a great supporter of racing here in the UAE.
“I won on this filly at Al Ain just last Friday ago when she did it easily but that was over 1000m and the extra 200m, on turf was a bit of a doubt coming here but she did that nicely.
“She has a lot of natural speed and did well to get across to the front from our draw. Hopefully there is more to come.”
The maximum field allowed of 16 may have gone to post in the opening 1600m maiden but, virtually from the outset, only one runner was ever involved. Well away from an ideal draw in three, AF Sharesah went straight to the front and never saw another rival.
Always travelling strongly under Antonio Fresu, the filly, who was second on her sole previous outing, here at Abu Dhabi a month ago, was clear at halfway and had the race won entering the straight.
Homebred by Champion Owner, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, she is trained by Ernst Oertel and looks useful, a sentiment with which her jockey concurs.
He said: “She was second first time when inexperience cost her the race and she was very keen in front that time. Here she has settled much better and she feels like a very nice filly.
“That was my eighth winner of the season so far and it has been going very well indeed.”
Owner and trainer completed a double with the hard fought victory of AF Maher, under Connor Beasley, in the finale, a 1600m handicap.
Xavier Ziani employed similar tactics to those used earlier by Fresu to equally good effect in the following 1400m maiden aboard Ghaleba.
Obviously keen to lead, Xiani drove his mount to take up the running after about 200m and, as with the first winner, albeit less comfortably, they were never really challenged.
Having her third run already this season, but first since her racecourse debut and sole appearance of the last campaign, Ghaleba still showed signs of greenness but won tidily.
Sporting the colours of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, she was a first winner this season for trainer Saifaldin Deeb.
Xiani said: “The trainer warned me before the race that she could be a bit cheeky but had plenty of ability so asked me to wake her up behind the gates before the start and to be positive on her in the race.
“In fairness to the filly she won well and is no longer a maiden after a good performance.”