IT IS ALWAYS worth emphasising the mostly unheralded qualities of Longines Sharjah Racecourse, or Sharjah Equestrian & Racing Club as was, not only in terms of the high quality racing surface but also the subsequent careers of many horses who ‘cut their teeth’ locally here. Among them, Dubai World Cup Carnival Thoroughbred winners include Storm Belt, Price Is Truth and Rafeej who all registered first UAE victories here, not to mention dual Group One Purebred Arabian victor Versac Py, 2019 Kahayla Classic hero AF Maher and ES Ajeeb who landed the Group 2 Bani Yas in both 2018 and 2019.

The last named was also prepared on the Sharjah track, highlighting its value as a training track, a facility that appears to be burgeoning. His trainer, Ibrahim Aseel has made a bright start to the current campaign. Anyway, plaudits aside, this afternoon’s only Thoroughbred race and official highlight, the 1700m HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Cup, carries a healthy prize purse of Dh200,000 with Dh120,000 for the winner.

Unsurprisingly, it has attracted a competitive capacity field of 16 with Doug Watson, already leading the title race as he bids to defend his Champion Trainer’s crown, appearing to hold particularly strong claims. He saddles four, including last year’s winner of this contest, Galvanize, an entire son of Medaglia D’Oro owned by Hamis Radan.

Now an 8yo, he has six career victories to his name, four for Watson, most recently in this contest 12 months ago when denying stable companion Golden Goal and it could be the case again that another runner from Red Stables heads the dangers. Step forward Pharoah King! A 4yo American Pharoah gelding, he has only had seven career starts, four since leaving the UK and joining Watson.

Victorious in the first two, handicaps over 2000m at Al Ain and 1950m up the Jebel Ali hill. He was then third in a similar race over 2000m at Meydan before seemingly failing to handle the surface, or perhaps failing to stay 2400m, when racing on turf for the first time. He likely remains progressive, with untapped potential, and could be the one to beat in this. However, the mount of Sam Hitchcott, he is not chosen by Pat Dobbs who has opted to partner Galvanize from the Watson quartet.

The powerful Watson challenge is completed by Far Sky and Verboten, the mounts of George Buckell and Dane O’Neill respectively. For Sheikh Ahmed, Nicholas Bachalard also had the enigmatic Top Clearance entered on ‘home dirt’ at Jebel Ali so it looks significant connections have opted for an ‘away day’.

Undoubtedly talented, the 9yo Majestic Warrior gelding looks well treated off a handicap mark of 83, virtually a career low although he was second off 82 over an inadequate Jebel Ali 1400m at the beginning of January. In the early part of 2016 he was rated as high as 105, plying his trade at the Dubai World Cup Carnival. Half of his four career victories were recorded locally, off marks of 100 and most recently 95, in March 2017.

That was over 1950m up the testing Jebel Ali incline and this trip could really suit him on his Sharjah debut. Bhupat Seemar celebrated his first runners as licence holder at Zabeel Stables by saddling a Meydan double last Thursday and his Dolmen merits the utmost respect. A 6yo Dawn Approach gelding, his whole career, just 13 starts which is low mileage for his age, has been spent in the UAE, winning thrice, significantly including here at Sharjah, albeit over 2000m.

That is actually his only victory on a dirt surface having twice won at Meydan on the turf, over 2000m and, most recently in February 2020, over 1800m so the 1700m trip should not be an issue. A caveat to that statement though would be that when winning here over 300m further he did blow the start.

A repeat of that would, obviously, give him less distance to play ‘catch up’. Obviously with the race named after the late Sheikh Hamdan, a Shadwell winner would have been most welcome but the world famous blue and white silks are not represented. The best of the Purebred Arabian action, arguably, is a 2000m handicap restricted to horses foaled here in the UAE for which 15 have been declared.

Safin Al Reef and Mootahady share the burden of top weight for Abdallah Al Hammadi and Salem Al Ketbi respectively, while Jaci Wickham’s Wakeel W’Rsan snatched a dramatic success over 1400m on the Abu Dhabi turf 13 days ago. The last named stays well and has won here at Sharjah, although he was very disappointing over 1700m on this course on his seasonal return at the end of October.

Selections

Race 1: ES Ajab (Nap)
Race 2: AF Ledagha
Race 3: Zahra Al Wathba
Race 4: Majdi
Race 5: Pharoah King (NB)
Race 6: Bouwaibi Al Zobair