Al Balushi Sharjah Double Headlined By Feature Race Success For Oman

The final meeting of the Sharjah Longines Racecourse season on Saturday afternoon was highlighted by HE Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan Cup, a 1700m Prestige handicap which produced a grandstand finish with Al Mufham SB snatching the spoils in the dying strides. In doing so, he thwarted AF Ramz who himself only led for about 50m having finally found a way past early leader Hazeem Al Raed who had valiantly fought off numerous challengers.

Partnered by Al Moatasem Al Balushi, the winner is trained in Oman by Badar Al Hajri, opening his UAE account at just the second attempt having saddled this horse to finish tenth in the Arabian Triple Crown a month ago, the horse’s sole turf appearance. It was also a first UAE winner for owner Saad bin Suhail Salim Bahwan whose silks had not tasted a local victory in 35 previous attempts.

The 4-year-old colt has now won four of his six dirt outings, adding this to a trio of victories in Muscat.

Al Balushi said: “I thought I was going to get there and luckily my horse really stuck his head out where it mattered. I know the horse well from Oman and was pretty confident he would run well.”

The jockey then combined with Helal Alalawi to land the final race of the Sharjah campaign the Sharjah Marathon, a 2700m handicap, with Asraa Min Al Talqa, producing the 7-year-old entire to lead close home. Owned by Forta Stud, the horse was doubling his career tally on his sixth UAE outing having previously landed a 1600m conditions race in Britain on the Chelmsford all-weather back in June 2018. He had not managed to finish in the first three in four previous dirt outings, or six on turf for that matter, that Chelmsford success being the only time he was in the major placings.

Alalawi said: “We thought this long distance would suit him and luckily it has under a very good ride. Now we know he stays well it gives us more options next season with this race and similar ones in Al Ain to aim at.”

The meeting kicked off with a 1000m handicap for horses foaled in the UAE which developed into a duel over the final 400m between early leader AF Thayer and top weight Dhafra, conceding weight to all her nine rivals. The latter and Antonio Fresu hit the front with about 325 remaining, but Tadhg O’Shea and AF Thayer fought all the way to the line, ultimately to no avail.

Trained by Eric Lemartinel, the 5-year-old mare was a first winner to carry the colours of Sheikh Mohd bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, celebrating success with just his eighth runner, all this season. For the mare, it was a third career victory having previously won both her first two career outings, in late 2019, over 1400m on the Abu Dhabi turf. Then owned by her breeder, Sheikha Alyazia bint Sultan Al Nahyan, the second of those victories was in the 1600m Abu Dhabi Fillies Classic. This was her fifth outing on dirt.

Fresu said: “She had a big weight today, so has done very well to carry that and win as she did. It was a good battle with the second, who was receiving lots of weight, but I always thought we would come out on top.”

Also for those born locally, a 2000m maiden also went to Fresu and Lemartinel with Al Ajayib prevailing in a thrilling finish for HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. A 4-year-old filly, she was making her seventh start having finished a close fourth, on her only previous visit to Sharjah in a 1700m maiden in December, as her best finish. Half of the dozen runners were in contention entering the final 200m when AF Al Abadee was headed by AF Solf who appeared the likely winner only to be thwarted in the final strides with Fresu delivering his challenge with impeccable timing.

Lemartinel said: “That has been the perfect start to the afternoon and Antonio has ridden both perfectly. We knew we had some good chances this afternoon, but have to be delighted to take the first two races.

“We thought the step up in trip to 2000m would suit this filly and it has. She is only young and, hopefully, can build on this.”

Again restricted to horses foaled locally, a 1700m handicap looked ultra-competitive on paper with a capacity field of 16 facing the starter, but it was ultimately won easily by Ashtr, previously a maiden after 12 racecourse appearances. Saddled by Majed Al Jahoori, the Al Wathba Racing homebred 5-year-old entire made a mockery of that statistic, hitting the front entering the short Sharjah straight and storming clear under apprentice Abdul Aziz Al Balushi. His ten previous dirt outings had included a pair of seconds and a third, so it was not a total shock he finally managed to get his head in front.

It was a similar scenario in the only Thoroughbred race on the card, a 1700m handicap and the other capacity field of 16 on the day. This time it was Falcon Claws, ridden by Szczepan Mazur for Doug Watson, who ran out the emphatic winner. Held up nearer last than first, the 4-year-old gelded son of Union Rags could be seen making stealthy progress as the field left the back straight and, once asked to go after leader and eventual runner-up Mears, he showed impressive acceleration. The pair swept to the lead just inside the final 200m and won pulling clear of the gallant Mears.

Previously a maiden after 13 starts, Watson’s charge arrived here having finished second, to stablemate Coast Sky, on his previous appearance over 1950m at Jebel Ali a fortnight ago. That was the closest he had come to winning before this taking effort.

Mazur said: “I was very pleased to be asked to ride him because you always know the Watson horses are going to be in with a chance. He has travelled well and then really quickened. It was impressive.”