Oman Claim GCC Cup Success

The GCC Cup, a 1700m conditions contest with Prestige status, was the highlight of the race meeting at Sharjah Longines Racecourse on Saturday afternoon and the prize went to Oman, courtesy of Al Roba’A Al Khali.

A 5-year-old entire, homebred by Hamed Salim Rashed Al Balushi, he has now won four of his five career appearances, suffering his sole reversal on debut when second over 1600m at Muscat, the scene of three subsequent victories, twice over that trip and most recently over 2000m a month ago. Settled in midfield by Al Moatasem Al Balushi, the pair made smooth progress on the home turn when Saudi Arabia’s Shareq Al Khalediah was making his bid for glory. Al Balushi’s mount soon hit the front though, but did not appear to be helping his jockey much, briefly giving the ever growing chasing pack a glimmer of hope. He eventually stayed on well, going further clear at the line.

He is trained by Younis Al Kalbani, a regular visitor to these shores two seasons ago, when he saddled 14 UAE winners, but having his first local runner since April 2019.

Al Kalbani said: “The UAE has been very lucky for me in the past, so we were very keen to target this prestigious race and thought this was the ideal horse with which to do so.

“We think he is very smart and is still a big baby, as you could see at the top of the straight he was having a good look around, but in the end, he has won nicely.

“We have to be delighted with that and, hopefully, this is a horse who has more big prizes in him.”

For horses foaled in the UAE, the opening 1000m handicap went the same way as the curtain raiser at Jebel Ali on Friday afternoon, Omani apprentice Saif Al Balushi again combining with owner and trainer Khalifa Al Neyadi, AF Mozhell emulating the exploits of Al Sujooj just over 24 hours earlier. Having chased the early pace, Al Balushi drove his mount to the front just inside the final 200m with the pair staying on strongly. The 6-year-old entire was doubling his career tally in the process having previously landed a 1400m Al Ain handicap in January 2019.

Al Neyadi said: “Thankfully the horses are running well and in good form. Al Balushi is a promising young jockey who rides well and I like to use on some of my horses because the apprentice claim is a big help.”

A 2000m maiden was certainly not the best quality race on the card, but it was a thrilling spectacle with the lead constantly changing hands throughout the short Sharjah straight. Initially stablemates AF Ramz and AF Mukhrej traded the advantage at regular intervals before, with about 225 remaining, Taajer looked to have delivered the telling challenge under Fabrice Veron.

However, with the winning post looming Szczepan Mazur conjured a withering late run from Majdi, the pair grabbing the spoils in the final few strides. Saddled by Abdallah Al Hammadi for his main patron, Al Ajban Stables, it was a case of third time lucky for the 4-year-old colt after two Al Ain outings, finishing a distant fourth on debut before dumping the unfortunate Sam Hitchcott when performing a pirouetting u-turn as the stalls opened more recently.

Mazur said: “Connections were hopeful that this trip would suit him and they were right; he has stayed on very strongly and, on that evidence, is going to appreciate going further.”

A 1700m handicap for fillies and mares foaled locally was dominated by Ernst Oertel and runners representing his main patron, Champion Owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, with AF Tathoor and AF Athabeh settling down to fight out the finish after sweeping past stable companion AF Rawiah at the 300m pole. The owner’s retained jockey, local champion Tadhg O’Shea, picked correct with AF Athabeh surging clear in the final 100m to register just her second career success, supplementing her victory in a 1600m Al Ain maiden, on just her second career start, in February 2018.

Like the vast majority of the Al Nabooda string, the 7-year-old mare is homebred and the he said: “Winning races is always good, but it is extra special with the homebreds, especially fillies.

“As I say regularly I have a great team behind me, a great trainer and Tadhg is a great jockey, so I have the right people behind me.”

An identical contest, but for colts and geldings followed, this time Al Neyadi supplying the 1-2 with both horses sporting the trainer’s own silks as he completed a double on the card. Al Balushi, seeking a brace of his own, hit the front of Inthar with about 175m remaining in what appeared a perfectly timed challenge, only to be snared by Bernardo Pinheiro aboard stablemate AF Eshaar. Always travelling well under the Brazilian, the 7-year-old entire was short of racing room on the home turn and entering the straight, but once pulled out of traffic, finished with real purpose to double his career tally. His previous visit to the winner’s enclosure was in a 2000m Sharjah maiden in February 2019.

A delighted Al Neyadi said: “What a great result that is for our relatively small team and it has been a great afternoon, one we can really enjoy.”

The finale and only Thoroughbred race on the card, a 1200m handicap, looked wide open on paper and so it proved with the majority of the field still in contention entering the final 300m. it was at this point One Vision started to weaken, leaving Naaeebb and Apolo Kid to lead on the far side with Feriyal making dramatic late headway on the nearside rail, enough to snatch second close home. However, the victory went to Antonio Fresu, riding Apolo Kid for Musabbeh Al Mheiri in the colours of H and B. A 4-year-old Lemon Drop Kid colt, he was actually shedding his maiden tag at the ninth attempt, a distant third, over 1600m at Meydan on his final start of last season, his best previous finish.

Fresu said: “This horse has been running over further, but has shown plenty of speed, so we hoped a try at sprinting would suit and it has today which is great for everybody concerned.”