The thoroughbreds take centre stage at Sharjah on Saturday with the maximum field of 16 declared for the HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Cup, a 1700m handicap.
Champion Trainer, Doug Watson, saddles both Dangerous Thought and Ballad Singer; the latter being the choice of Pat Dobbs, and a course winner in a 2000m handicap, on his most recent outing in the middle of November.
That was actually his first career victory but he clearly appreciates the Sharjah surface because he was second on his only previous run there, in this very race, last season when it was contested on Christmas Eve.
Dangerous Thought, meanwhile, remains a maiden after 13 starts and has been running quite well recently but was a long way behind Ballad Singer in that November race won by his stable companion. Watson said: “We were very hopeful for Ballad Singer but he has drawn 16 which is certainly not ideal. He will need some luck from that gate, while Dangerous Thought is coming down the weights to a point where we hope he can be competitive. But he has drawn 14 so we really did not enjoy much ‘luck of the draw’!
When second in this race last season, Ballad Singer chased home Fa’Iz, trained by Erwan Charpy who relies on Emirates Airline on Saturday. He will be ridden by Antonio Fresu, just as he was when staying on strongly to snatch second at Al Ain, over 2000m, last Friday. That was, by far, the best of his five runs to date this season and he will be running at Sharjah for the first time.
Fresu said: “That was a good run last week and he made up a lot of ground in the straight. If we can sit a bit closer, hopefully, he can be competitive in an open looking race.”
Satish Seemar saddles three with stable jockey, Richard Mullen electing to ride Fivehundredmiles, the mount of Connor Beasley. He and stable companion, Unite The Clans, are owned by Thistle Bloodstock. Fifth in the November race won by Ballad Singer, on his seasonal debut, Fivehundredmiles was third on his only subsequent outing, at Jebel Ali, suggesting he had benefitted from that Sharjah return.
Colm O’Donoghue partners the trainer’s third runner, Broadcloth who remains a maiden but will be having only the sixth run of his life. Ali Rashid Al Rayhi will be hoping first reserve, Watheeq, owned by Sheikh Hamdan after whom the race is named, gets a run at the track on which he has recorded all three of his local victories, albeit over 2000m.
The same owner also has a course specialist in the best of the Purebred Arabian action, a 2000m handicap, in the shape of The Secret, trained by Watson. He has won five times, all here at Sharjah, once at 1700m, twice over this 2000m and two renewals of the 2700m Sharjah Marathon, the second time as recently as March of last year.
The owner’s retained jockey, Jim Crowley, takes the ride with Dobbs aboard stablemate, Bougedelah, who lost his maiden tag when winning a 1700m handicap just last Saturday. Watson said: “We all know The Secret loves it at Sharjah but he too has drawn the widest gate in 15 which makes life a lot harder. Bougedlah was returning from a break, having been gelded, when winning last week and hopefully can build on that now he has put his head in front.”
The weights are headed by Dig Dagon, trained by Abdallah Al Hammadi for Al Ajban Stables. The mount of Fernando Jara, his most recent victory was over 3200m, at Al Ain exactly two years and one day ago. Sanad, trained by Jean de Roualle, Ernst Oertel’s AF Abahe, the choice of Fresu from the trainer’s three runners, Zahee for Eric Lemartinel and Helal Al Alawi’s RB Fired Up all look likely to run well in a wide open contest.