The final UAE race meeting of 2018 was staged at Sharjah Equestrian & Racing Club (SERC) last Saturday afternoon on a memorable occasion for Doug Watson and more so for Sam Hitchcott. The fixture was highlighted by the second running of the Dh200,000 HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Cup, a 1700m handicap, sole Thoroughbred contest on the six race card and dominated by Doug Watson whose two runners, Pillar Of Society and Mystique Moon, had the race between themselves throughout the final 250m. The former, the choice of stable jockey Pat Dobbs, was well away from stall one and sent straight to the lead with Sam Hitchcott settling the eventual winner in about third on the rail, tracking his stable companion.
Both jockeys were sat motionless until entering the 300m straight when Hitchcott asked his mount to challenge, with Dobbs finding a gallant response from Pillar Of Society. However, with about 150m remaining Mystique Moon was on top, making his second UAE and dirt outing a winning one having finished fourth, in a Meydan handicap over 1400m when again in front of Pillar Of Society who was seventh. Twice a winner on the all-weather in Britain for Godolphin and Charlie Appleby, the 4yo gelded son of Kyllachy now sports the colours of Mohd Khalifa Al Basti. It was the middle leg of a treble for Hitchcott who, like Dobbs, is based with Watson, and said: “Doug and the team at Red Stables have the horses in great form and we thought we had two good chances.
“It was a bit tight on the rail for a moment but, once in the clear, he picked up nicely and that was a good performance in a decent race.” Also worth Dh200,000, the inaugural HH The Crown Prince of Sharjah Cup, a 1200m Prestige sprint, looked a straightforward opportunity on paper for ES Ajeeb and so it proved, he and Hitchcott never extended and with the race won at halfway. Homebred by Sheikh Abdulla bin Majid Al Qassemi, the SERC chairman, the 4yo is trained on the track by Ibrahim Aseel and it proved an ideal end to the year at their local course with the winner very well received and given a memorable reception. Victorious at Meydan in the 1400m Group 2 Bani Yas on his previous outing he, as expected, proved a class apart from his 11 toiling rivals, crossing the line almost 15 lengths clear.
Hitchcott said: “He has so much speed for a Purebred Arabian and is a very good sprinter, on a dirt surface particularly but, sadly, there are few opions for him so this race was a welcome new addition, especially on his home track.” Earlier, fifteen had contested a 1200m maiden but very few were ever able to get involved and Ashton Tourettes proved far too good for the remainder, running out a very easy winner for Hitchcott and Aseel. Owned by Ziad Galadari, the 3yo was having just his second career start having finished sixth of 15 in a 1600m Al Ain maiden three weeks ago and has clearly progressed a lot with that experience under his belt. “He showed plenty of pace at Al Ain so we were hopeful the shorter trip would suit him,” Aseel said.
“I am delighted to have a winner for Mr Galadari who has, very kindly, sent us a few nice horses this season. “Hopefully this horse can build on this now he has that first victory and with the extra experience.” A 2000m conditions contest produced a dramatic conclusion with the lead twice changing hands in the final 100m in a race only a handful of the 11 runners ever really posed a threat. Richard Mullen and AF Taraha had taken up the running fully 1000m from home and, leaving the back straight, had most of their rivals beaten. However, Royston Ffrench and Inayat W’Rsan had made smooth progress to stalk them into the bend with, from the rear, Hareer Al Reef starting to make relentless headway under Gerald Avranche.
Challenging between the other pair, Ffrench’s mount hit the front at the 100m pole but, despite trying to fight back, had no answer to the late charge of Hareer Al Reef who was winning for the second time after 15 starts. Trained by Abdallah Al Hammadi for Al Ajban Stables, the 5yo had registered that one previous victory in a 2000m Al Ain maiden in January. “He ran very well when staying on over 1600m at Jebel Ali two weeks ago,” Al Hammadi said. “We were very hopeful the return to 2000m would help him and, as you saw, he stays the trip well and will get further.” Connections wasted no time completing a double, combining to land the following 1700m maiden with Kanz Al Reef, beaten a long way on his one previous outing in a 1400m on the Abu Dhabi turf at the beginning of November.
After a tardy break, having jumped awkwardly, the 5yo was given plenty of time to find his stride by a patient Avranche and, at halfway, was nearer last than first of the 13 runners before making stealthy headway along the back straight and, turning for home, they were poised just behind the leaders. Encouraged to close by his jockey, the pair swept to the front at the top of the short straight and never looked in any danger of defeat subsequently. With one previous winner this season prior to the meeting, a delighted Avranche said: “We were pretty confident Hareer Al Reef would run well, back over 2000m, and he stayed on strongly. “The switch to dirt and slightly longer trip have suited Kanz Al Reef and Abdallah and his team have the horses in good form which bodes well for 2019.”
The opening 1200m handicap was won in determined fashion by AZ Dhabyan who was always prominent under apprentice Adam McLean before the pair committed for home 300m out. McLean, riding his first winner of the season, found he had a willing partner and they stayed on well to win cosily. Saddling just her fifth runner of the campaign, trainer Saleha Al Ghurair, who also owns the horse, was opening her seasonal account. Meanwhile, the 7yo gelding was actually losing his maiden tag, after 26 previous outings and showing his first signs of form on dirt having previously mustered a second and two third places on turf.
This, his ninth dirt outing, was a third visit to Sharjah and McLean, another based at Red Stables with Doug Watson, said: “He had finished second on the Abu Dhabi turf in the past and has shown plenty of speed today. “I was always travelling strongly and once in front he was not stopping, running strongly to the line. “It is great to finish 2018 with a winner and I am obviously grateful for this winning opportunity.”