GCC Cup Looks At Mercy Of Saudi Arabian Challenger

Inaugurated as recently as 2019, the GCC Cup, a 1700m prestige conditions race, is the undoubted highlight of Saturday’s card at Sharjah Longines Racecourse and has attracted a competitive capacity field of 16, arguably headed by Saudi Arabia’s Shareq Al Khalediah.

Restricted to horses foaled in the GCC, the inaugural running went to Saudi Arabia when Mubasher Al Khalediah landed the spoils with Shareq Al Khalediah not beaten far in fourth having held every chance entering the short straight. The 9-year-old entire has only raced four times since, winning twice, including his most recent outing over 1600m in late November. He will be a first UAE runner for trainer Roberto Ocampo who has secured the services of Antonio Fresu for the Athbah Racing-owned horse.

On official ratings, at least, he is the one to beat with MH Rahal seemingly heading the local challenge for Elise Jeanne with Ryan Curatolo, back from suspension, booked to ride. Homebred by Mansoor Khalifa Sultan bin Habtoor, the 7-year-old entire only has two wins from 29 starts to his name but has run plenty of good races in defeat in far better races than this. He won his maiden at Sharjah, over 1200m, back in November 2017 and has twice found subsequent 2019 Group 1 Dubai Kahayla Classic winner AF Maher too good over Saturday’s 1700m course and distance. This will be his fourth outing of the current campaign and, at least on paper, by far his easiest.

Jeanne, awaiting her first winner of the season after 21 previous efforts, said: “We have freshened him up after his last run three weeks ago and he looks really good. Being locally bred he does not get many opportunities against this type of opposition, so this race looks ideal for him. He is probably a Group Three horse and there are very few such opportunities for him.
“The top horses always seem to end up dropping into the few Group Three contests, so this is a nice opportunity, and we were keen to get him back to Sharjah. Drawn 14 is not ideal, but he normally breaks well, and we know he likes Sharjah which is a big plus because it is a tricky little course which suits certain horses. He really deserves to win again. Hopefully, that will be on Saturday!”

For Al Wathba Racing, Majed Al Jahoori saddles both Saarookh and Shawall, the booking of Fernando Jara suggesting the latter is the better fancied. The connections also have the reserve, Margaza, who would merit consideration should she make the final field.

AF Momtaz, trained by Musabbeh Al Mheiri, won this last year for Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda who has two runners this time, both in the care of his main trainer Ernst Oertel. The owner’s retained rider, UAE Champion Jockey Tadhg O’Shea, opts to ride AF Kal Noor, having just a seventh career start. His two wins include the Ruler Of Sharjah, over this Sharjah 1700m, last February. The homebred 6-year-old entire is unbeaten on dirt having also won a 1400m Jebel Ali maiden on his third career start. After two outings on the Abu Dhabi turf this season, he should be cherry ripe for this assignment.

Stable companion AF Motaghatres and O’Shea were second in this race last year and looks a plum spare ride for Richard Mullen.

Oertel said: “Both seem in good form and are proven at Sharjah which is a definite advantage. On ratings they have to improve, but Kal Noor has not had much racing and Motaghatres is tough, so hopefully both will be competitive at least.”

The finale, a 1200m handicap and only Thoroughbred race on the card, has attracted a field of 15 and looks wide open. The only previous Sharjah winner in the field is One Season, representing the powerful Satish Seemar and Richard Mullen combination. A 6-year-old gelded son of Showcasing, that second career victory was over 1000m in November 2019 and first since a winning debut as a juvenile over 1400m at Meydan in December 2017. He was third, over 1000m, here at Sharjah on his only previous appearance this season, a month ago, and has only once failed to finish in the first three after four appearances at the course.

Seemar also saddles Mass Media, the mount of Tadhg O’Shea, and a maiden after 13 starts. Second twice in five outings for Godolphin and John Gosden, he was fourth on his latest appearance, his third of the campaign, when one place and just over six lengths behind stablemate One Season.

Second in that same race was Sports Reporter, again to be ridden by Pat Cosgrave for Helal Alalawi and owners the National Stables. A 4-year-old Dark Angel gelding, he is a maiden after nine starts, three locally, but certainly seemed to appreciate the Sharjah surface on that, his first look at the track.