Plenty Of Doubles As Racing Returns To Sharjah

Sharjah Longines Racecourse staged its first meeting of the new season on Saturday afternoon when the best of the Purebred Arabian races, a 1200m handicap for horses bred locally, was dominated by the two horses saddled by Champion Trainer Ernst Oertel for Champion Owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda.

AF Meeqat chased his half-brother, AF Thobor, who is two years older, throughout. The latter, under champion jockey Tadhg O’Shea, quickened away with 300m left and held on, despite tiring close home when Antonio Fresu must have hoped AF Meeqat could snatch the spoils, but the line appeared in time for O’Shea who, having held on by a neck, said: “That was a competitive race and I was lucky to have a very capable and brave partner.

“It is a great result for Mr Al Nabooda who bred both the first two and of course for Ernst Oertel.”

Homebred, the 8-year-old was winning for the fifth time, fourth at 1200m and second over the trip at Sharjah having lost his maiden tag here on his most recent visit to the course in December 2015.

The following 1000m maiden for 3-year-olds bred in the UAE was a virtual carbon copy of AF Thobor’s success with O’Shea again never headed aboard an Al Nabooda homebred trained by Oertel, in this case debutant AF Yeheeb who flew out the stalls and probably never saw any of his 14 rivals.

Again O’Shea set sail for home about the 300m pole, establishing a significant lead and one they always looked likely to maintain despite the late effort of fellow debutant, Maqam, who was able to close within a length at the post.

O’Shea said: “That was a very pleasing start to his career and he has shown plenty of natural speed to post a very good effort. Hopefully there is more to come from him.”

For the same connections, O’Shea attempted similar tactics in the concluding 1700m handicap, a third race on the card restricted to those bred locally, but his mount AF Al Mohanad was swamped fully 700m from home by Men Alemarat, finally finishing seventh.

Meanwhile, Bernardo Pinheiro and Men Alemarat shot clear, but were challenged early in the straight by Al Yamamah Mleeh, but Pinheiro’s mount was resolute and pulled away again in the closing stages to win by just over three lengths.

Riding for Khalifa Al Neyadi, who also owns the 7-year-old gelding, registering a fourth career success, it was a first winner this season for both trainer and jockey, with the latter delighted.

“It is always nice to get that first winner of any season”, Pinheiro said. “I was always confident because my horse travelled very strongly and I knew would stay because I have ridden him several times.”

Pinheiro’s Brazilian compatriot Ana Mendez has made a bright start to her first season with a licence in the UAE and saddled her second winner of the campaign with her sixth runner, debutante Rawaa who, after breaking slowly, was soon in front of her 15 rivals in the opening 1200m maiden and stayed there under Richard Mullen, sporting the yellow and green silks of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Homebred, the 4-year-old filly showed plenty of inexperience, but was able to overcome that, seemingly aided by racing close to the nearside rail and galloping on resolutely, having scooted clear just after halfway. She never looked likely to be caught thereafter although Kalbahar CS, who also lost ground with a tardy start, was gaining rapidly at the finish, finally crossing the line just under two lengths in arrears.

Mullen said: “Ana and her team have the horses in good form and that was a good first effort for an inexperienced filly who, hopefully, will improve with time and racing.”

Ninety minutes later runner number seven became a third winner for the handler with the hard fought victory of Fandim in a 2000m maiden with Noel Garbutt this time sporting the colours of Sheikh Mansour.

A homebred 4-year-old gelding, Fandim was well beaten in his three previous outings last season when slow starts did not help his cause, but he was soon up with the pace on this occasion before making smooth progress to challenge Azaam on the home turn.

It took him about 200m to finally get past that rival after which the race, as a contest, was over to the delight of Mendez who said: “I am very grateful to Sheikh Mansour for this opportunity and we have some nice horses for him. It has been a great start to the season and, hopefully, we can continue among the winners.

“This horse can be a bit lazy, so full credit to the jockey who has worked hard to get him home in front. I only had two runners today, so am absolutely delighted.”

Out of luck on his return to the UAE at Jebel Ali on Friday, Dane O’Neill is off the mark for the season after the relatively comfortable success of One Season in the only race for Thoroughbreds, a 1000m handicap, for owner Lina Ahmed Binnshi and a fourth winner of the campaign for Satish Seemar.

Now a 4-year-old, the gelded son of Showcasing made a winning debut, as a juvenile, over 1000m at Meydan in December 2017, but had not tasted success in eight starts subsequently. However, well away, he was always going well with O’Neill happy to stalk stable companion Cosmic Glow until driving ahead entering the final 400m with the race soon in safekeeping.

“We broke well and the horse showed plenty of early speed which has served him well,” O’Neill said. “That fast break made my job very easy because I was always in a good position and travelling strongly.

“He has done the job well and it is nice for me to get that first winner on the board during my first weekend back.”