Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club staged their penultimate fixture of 2018 on Saturday afternoon, highlighted by the only Thoroughbred race, the HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Cup, in which Bois De Boulogne snatched what had, for much of the race, appeared a most unlikely victory.
Fifteen went to post for the 1700m handicap with the eventual winner slowly away from a wide draw in 13 and stone last when the field set out on their final circuit. Still with only one or two rivals behind him at halfway under Emirati apprentice Saeed Al Mazrooei, the 4-year-old Street Cry colt started to sneak closer on the back straight, but was still only in midfield entering the home turn. Meanwhile, up front Invincible Strike, who had led from the outset under Richard Mullen for Satish Seemar, had set sail for home and looked the likely winner until Al Mazrooei produced Bois De Boulogne fast and late to snatch the spoils close home, the pair ultimately winning going away from Mullen’s mount who stayed on gamely for second. Saddled by Sandeep Jadhav for Ahmad Ghalita Almheiri, it was a third career victory for the horse and second in the UAE having landed a handicap over 1800m at Jebel Ali in January.
Al Mazrooei, having just his sixth mount of the season, was opening his account for the campaign and said: “The yard were quietly confident and we knew he would stay the trip well, so I was happy to take my time. I knew leaving the back we had a decent chance and he ran on very well in the straight to win well in the end.”
Irfan Ellahi saddled no less than seven of the 16 runners, all owned by Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum, in the opening 1200m fillies’ maiden and was able to celebrate victory with the hard fought success of JAP Jazmh, third on her only previous start, over 1000m at Sharjah, five weeks ago. Royston Ffrench, who rode her on her debut was again in the saddle with the pair tracking AF Taghzel throughout the first 900m before throwing down a determined challenge. Ffrench’s mount hit the front soon after, but AF Taghzel and Antonio Fresu fought back, closing on the winner in the final 50m, but unable to regain the initiative.
Ellahi who saddled 17 runners throughout the five Purebred Arabian races on the card, said: “We thought she was our best chance and we think she is a very nice filly with, hopefully, a big future.”
The equivalent 1200m maiden for colts and geldings also attracted a maximum field of 16, but on this occasion very few were ever able to get involved. When early leader AF Mozhell weakened just after halfway the race turned into a virtual carbon copy of the first race other than, this time, Ellahi was denied by a horse saddled by Ernst Oertel, trainer of AF Taghzel. JAP Malawih and George Buckell hit the front when AF Mozhell dropped away, but was instantly challenged by Tadhg O’Shea and AF Mezmar, the pair hitting the front 200m out, only for the former to renew his challenge, but not quite able to get back to the front.
Well beaten on his only previous start at Al Ain, he had clearly benefitted from that experience and Oertel said: “We were keen to bring him here because they do such a good job with the surface and it has really suited him. The horses have been running well, but finishing second and third, so it is nice to get a winner. We were just denied in the first and deserved a change of fortune.”
O’Shea added: “Fair play to the horse because that developed into a real battle and he really fought all the way to the line.”
The first two 1200m maidens were restricted to those foaled in the UAE whereas the third was open to all and won by AF Mathayel, completing quick doubles for O’Shea, Oertel and owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda who also bred both his winners. In somewhat a case of déjà vu, other than it was Muhaymin trained by Helal Al Alawi and not an Ellahi runner involved, the race developed into a duel from about the 600m marker when O’Shea went for home on the winner. Billy Lee conjured up a renewed effort from Muhaymin who, for at least 100m, looked likely to land the spoils, but the winner refused to be beaten, opening her account on her sixth career start and second run of the season.
“We thought AF Mathayel was the horse we had to beat,” O’Shea said. “I followed him to about halfway when he seemed to hit a flat spot and I was still travelling well, so went on. We were getting a lot of weight so I was happy to go for home, but fair play to the runner-up because he really made us work hard.”
A treble appeared on the cards for much of the concluding 2000m handicap with O’Shea taking AF Taraha straight to the lead and, having seen off stable companion AF Al Mehleb with 250m left, victory looked likely until Fresu managed to produce Secret Sentinel with a decisive challenge close home.
Fresu, sporting the silks of Forta Stud, was riding for Helal Al Alawi and explained: “That was a nice surprise to be honest as this horse had not been showing much in recent runs, but, in fairness to Mr Al Alawi who is having such a good season, he did say the horse would run well and he most certainly has.”
An hour earlier, it was then the turn of Sheikh Saeed and Ellahi to complete a double with JAP Al Thuraya and Fernando Jara probably never headed in a 1000m handicap, battling on grimly to deny Ffrench a brace aboard stable companion Qanoon. In another race very few of the runners, this time 15, looked like winning, Jara kicked his mount clear about 500m out in what, ultimately, proved a race winning move with Qanoon making relentless progress over the last 300m, but never really looking like catching Jara’s mount. A maiden previously, this was just a sixth career start for the winner, a 4-year-old filly by AF Al Buraq, also the sire of AF Mezmar.
Jara said: “She was well away from the stalls, so I just let her do her thing and she kept on going. She might have been getting a bit lonely in the closing stages, but when she heard the second closing she picked up again in game style."