Sharjah Longines Racecourse staged its second meeting of the new UAE season on Saturday afternoon, a six-race card highlighted by the fixture’s sole Thoroughbred race, a 1700m handicap, the HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Cup. The AED 200,000 race was won by Philosopher, a spare ride for champion jockey Tadhg O’Shea, replacing Royston Ffrench who was injured at Abu Dhabi on Friday.
Held up in sixth of the seven runners, Philosopher made notable headway leaving the back straight, easing into contention on the home turn and quickening to the front 200m out after which he was never going to be caught. A 7-year-old gelded son of Shamardal trained by Salem bin Ghadayer for HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, Philosopher was finally, after 21 previous UAE runs, opening his local account to add to a pair of victories in 2015 in Europe. Such a run of defeats meant he was running, for the third time in succession, off a career low mark of 73. On his first visit to Sharjah, he was able to take full advantage to go two places better than when third on his seasonal reappearance over 2000m at Meydan.
O’Shea said: “The Maktoum Family have been instrumental in my career and this is another milestone because it is the first time I have ever ridden for the Crown Prince on what was a great spare ride. You have to feel sorry for Royston, but he will be back hopefully quite soon after his setback at Abu Dhabi.”
The best of the Purebred Arabian action, a 2000m handicap, went to Al Asayl with Fabrice Veron and Jaahiz clinging on despite the 5-year-old entire seeming to think he had done enough with 50m to run, virtually downing tools and crossing the line at little more than a trot. AF Abahe and Tadhg O’Shea were cutting into his advantage, but never looked like getting there to deny the winner. Bred by Al Asayl Racing and raced by HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Jaahiz was completing a double for Veron and trainer Eric Lemartinel.
Lemartinel said: “Racing here at Sharjah is always very competitive with plenty of runners, so we are delighted to get two winners today, which is great for the stable and the whole team. Fabrice is a very important part of our team who knows the horses well as he rides out in the mornings and works very hard for us.”
The opening 1200m maiden for UAE-bred colts and geldings bred was contested by 12 debutants and four with previous racecourse experience. ES Ghazi and jockey Sam Hitchcott tried hard throughout the final 100m to head Maqam before the winning post appeared just in time for the latter and jockey Veron, sporting the silks of Sheikha Alyazia bint Sultan Al Nahyan. The homebred colt quickened to the front just after halfway before running on gamely all the way to the line to post a deserved victory for trainer Lemartinel.
Veron said: “That was a good battle over the last 300m and my horse will only improve as he was very inexperienced as he showed with a slightly slow start. He was soon in contention though and has shown a very determined attitude to win at the first attempt so we have to be very pleased with that.
The following 1200m maiden was the equivalent for fillies and mares and it was far more straightforward for Mamia Al Reef who landed the spoils in style under Szczepan Mazur for trainer Ibrahim Al Hadhrami and owner Hamad Abdul Rahman Mohd Kayed. Always prominent on the far side from her low draw, the filly showed a nice burst of acceleration about 300m out to snare AF Taghzel, who herself kept on gamely to finish a comfortable second.
“That was quite impressive to be fair to the filly,” Mazur said. “I was always in control on my side of the track but knew we were a bit behind overall, but when I asked her, she quickened nicely and soon had the race in the bag.”
Replacing the unfortunate Ffrench, Mazur completed a double when never headed aboard Qanoon in a 1000m handicap, providing trainer Irfan Ellahi and owner Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum with their first winner of the campaign.
A delighted Ellahi said: “That was very pleasing as it was a competitive race, so I have to be very happy with him. The jockey did very well because he was challenged for the early lead but he was able to get the initiative which we wanted and the horse then ran on well from what was a good draw. This is a nice horse, so it is great to see him win again and hopefully not for the last time.”
The finale, a 1700m handicap, was another restricted to horses bred locally and JAP Al Yasoob completed a double for Ellahi and his main patron, Sheikh Saeed, under a confident ride from Fernando Jara, who was opening his own seasonal account in the process. Settled behind the leaders, Jara eased the 5-year-old into contention on the final bend before driving him to the front 200m out and finding a willing partner, who was always going to deny the late challenge of Meftah Al Reef.
Ellahi said: “Everything went perfectly for him today and that was a very good effort from both horse and jockey. Hopefully this horse is improving and, like so many of our horses, obviously likes it here at Sharjah.”