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The Ruler of Sharjah Trophy is the highlight on Saturday at the Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club when it stages the final and biggest meeting of the season.
Seven have been declared for the 1700m Prestige contest where HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has owned the last three winners, all ridden by Tadhg O’Shea.
On this occasion O’Shea has chosen to ride Mahfouz, leaving Gerald Avranche to partner stable companion, Al Jazi.
Both will be saddled by Eric Lemartinel who prepared Hamza to land the prize last year during his first season as retained trainer at Al Asayl Stables near Abu Dhabi.
“Mahfouz has only had three starts and this will be his dirt debut,” said O’Shea. “He seems to handle a similar surface in his work at home and the longer trip than he has faced should suit him.
“Al Jazi is more experienced, has won on dirt and should stay so the yard have two decent chances but Mr Oertel’s horse looks the one to beat.”
He is referring to AF Al Jahed, trained by Ernst Oertel for Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda and the mount of Richard Mullen.
Unraced before this season, he has been kept busy and will be having his tenth outing of a campaign which has produced three victories, in consecutive races over a four week period in December and January.
A 1600m maiden winner at Al Ain, he then won twice at Jebel Ali and was never headed on each occasion.
The five year old finished runner-up in his two most recent outings and this will be his first start at Sharjah. This is a track which suits his positive run style and he should go very close.
“It took him a few starts to realise what was required but has had a good season once the penny dropped,” said Oertel. “He has had a nice little break and this looked a good opportunity for him. Hopefully, he has a big chance.”
The final race of the Sharjah season is the Sharjah Marathon, a 2700m handicap in which The Secret, trained by Doug Watson, will bid to repeat his victory of 12 months ago.
The seven year old had four wins from five outings last season, all four wins coming in Sharjah.
This campaign though, a lack of suitable races at his favourite track has meant he made just two appearance in Al Ain, finishing well beaten on both occasions.
With Jim Crowley on board, the return to Sharjah will certainly suit him and he appears to hold serious claims of defending his crown.
“There has not been a suitable opportunity at Sharjah up to now so we are pleased to get him back there, “ said Watson. “He is in good form at home and we expect him to at least go close.”
The Al Asayl team has two runners with RB Burning Ash the choice of O’Shea on this occasion and Avranche aboard stable companion, Meydan Du Paon.
However, the main danger could be from the locally bred Shamikh Al Wathba, a winner over 1800m on debut at Al Ain in December, who has had just two subsequent outings for Jean de Roualle.
Both those races were over 1600m on turf at Abu Dhabi, he was runner-up on the first occasion but perhaps a bit disappointing when finishing ninth in his last time out.
The five year old has had a month off, and should be freshened up. He is also expected to benefit from the increased trip and return to dirt, making him a big threat under Antonio Fresu.