Sprinters produce a thriller at first meeting of 2023 in Abu Dhabi

Racing returned to the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club for the first time in 2023 on Thursday when a good quality 1200m handicap produced a thrilling finish with three of the 12 runners flashing across the line in unison, the verdict ultimately going to 7yo entire homebred AF Majalis, partnered by Tadhg O’Shea, retained jockey of the horse’s owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, and saddled by Ernst Oertel.

Unable to get to the front as he seemingly wanted, O’Shea was happy to track Gold Silver until striking the front entering the final 175m with the race seemingly won. However, Gold Silver fought back and Bshara threw down a late challenge on the far rail but Oertel’s charge just prevailed. Maahir was only a neck further back in fourth.

Oertel said: “What an exciting finish! To be honest I was not sure who had won so was obviously delighted to get the verdict. He stays 1400m but this 1200m is his best trip.”

O’Shea added: “I thought we would win by a length at least but something distracted him so he gave the others a chance to get back at him but, luckily, he hit the line in front.”

The opening 2200m handicap for horses foaled in the UAE was won by Al Asayl’s Taajer, confidently ridden by Richard Mullen for Salem Al Ketbi, a third career and second consecutive success for the homebred 7yo gelding who won a 2000m handicap on the Sharjah dirt 25 days ago.

Mullen said: “He has been running well and his form from Sharjah was made to looks strong by the runner-up so we came here pretty confident of a good run as long as he translated his dirt form back on turf. Luckily he did!”

The only Thoroughbred event, a 1400m handicap, had looked competitive on paper with the capacity field of 14 facing the starter but actually proved a fairly straightforward task for Shadwell’s Fawaareq, trained by Doug Watson and sent clear in the final 250m by the owner’s retained jockey, Dane O’Neill.

O’Neill said: “We had a nice draw, were able to get into the ideal position and then he quickened up in good style. It was a good performance and hopefully he can follow it up.”

Musabbeh Al Mheiri no longer trains many Purebred Arabians but he remains a proficient at doing so and saddled Naser Askar’s Zafaranah to score a determined victory in a 1600m handicap, the Shadwell-bred 6yo mare doubling her career tally, on her sixth start and now a winner on both dirt and turf.

Drawn low, Fresu settled in midfield, on the rail, before pulling out to challenge early in the straight, the pair hitting the front approaching the final 200m, when several were still in contention, before staying on strongly.

For horses in private ownership, very few managed to get involved in a 1200m maiden with Abdul Aziz Al Balushi soon in front aboard Ifahat Du Loup, having just his second career start, and in control inside the final 250m for trainer Sulaiman Al Ghunaimi and owner Hamood Said Alnahdi, celebrating his first UAE winner at just the third attempt.

Never able to land a blow but far from disgraced on his debut when seventh, over 1600m here at Abu Dhabi a month ago, the 5yo had clearly learned a lot from that initial experience and was a lot sharper from the off on this occasion.

Debutant Bassam Al Wathba was soon in front in a 1400m maiden and stayed there under Bernardo Pinheiro, partnering the Al Wathba Racing 4yo homebred colt for Majed Al Jahoori.

1400m handicap, the finale and only Thoroughbred contest