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The final meeting of the current campaign at Sharjah on Saturday, was highlighted by the course’s biggest race of the season, the 1700m Ruler Of Sharjah Trophy, won in a photograph by Mahfouz under Tadhg O’Shea.
A 1700m Prestige contest, it produced one of several exciting finishes on the six race card with O’Shea sending his mount for home leaving the home turn, sweeping past AF Al Jahed who had led from the outset.
However, he and Richard Mullen fought back, closing all the way throughout the final 100m but just failing to regain the initiative.
It was a fourth consecutive victory in the race for HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, all partnered by O’Shea and a second in two years for trainer Eric Lemartinel.
“That was only his fourth start and first on dirt,” said O’Shea. “He was still a bit green in the straight but knuckled down well and it is great to win what has been a lucky race for me again.”
Owner and breeder, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, was responsible for four of the runners in the opening 1200m maiden and, remarkably, the quartet led home their 12 opponents.
It was Antonio Fresu, aboard the Ernst Oertel-trained debutante, AF Bareqah, who landed the spoils, the pair probably never headed and chased home by stable companion AF Shuzza.
Trained by Maria Ritchie, AF Meghwaar was third ahead of AF Esnad, another saddled by Oertel.
“I knew we had a few decent chances but I could not have hoped for that,” said Al Nabooda. “It has been a wonderful season but this is a pretty special achievement.”
He also bred the fifth, AF Ghazali, trained by Mohd Ramadan but owned by Marwan Buti Ahmed Al Qubaisi.
That was a tight finish and then the following 1200m handicap produced a similarly thrilling outcome with four of the 15 runners holding every chance entering the final 50m. It was Sam Hitchcott and Es Almas who emerged victorious, leading almost on the line.
Saddled by Ibrahim Aseel, the winner was losing her maiden tag at the seventh attempt and ran on in determined fashion when urged by her jockey.
“She ran on determinedly and I was pretty sure we had our head in front at the line,” said Hitchcott. “On that evidence she will certainly stay 1400m if there is a suitable race for her.”
Half an hour later, the jockey completed a 1200m handicap double on maidens, this time driving the Doug Watson-trained Paranormal to a hard fought success from Always welcome.
The latter, under Tadhg O’Shea, had hit the front with less than 400m to run and, once headed at the 200m pole, fought back valiantly but Paranormal clung on grimly.
In doing so, he lost his maiden tag in the process on his fifth career start and fourth in the UAE.
“He is not the biggest but has a lot of heart,” said Hitchcott. “He has had to dig deep in the closing stages as the runner-up was fighting back.
“Hopefully he can improve on this now he has put his head in front.”
The jockey then made it three narrow victories in succession, this time denying Watson whose Hakim made a brave attempt to make all the running under Pat Dobbs.
However, they could not withstand the desperate late thrust of Hitchcott and Eiz Al Reef, saddled by Abdallah Al Hammadi who was registering a second career success having lost his maiden tag in December.
“I won a 2000m course maiden on this horse late last year so knew he would be staying on and handled the surface,” said Hitchcott. “He ran on well and it is turning into a good afternoon!”
The final race of the Sharjah season, a 2700m handicap with the moniker of The Sharjah Marathon, was won, as it had been 12 months ago, by The Secret, completing a double for Watson.
Jim Crowley, retained rider for owner HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, sent Watson’s charge straight to the front and, turning for home, had all bar Shamikh Al Wathba beaten.
The latter actually looked the most likely winner 200m from home but, having just his fourth start, wandered under pressure whereas Crowley’s mount, with the benefit of the rail, kept finding for his jockey.
“The yard were fairly confident,” said Crowley. “He clearly loves it here at Sharjah and dug deep in the closing stages when I needed him to.”