With a prize fund of AED100,000, the HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Cup is the standout contest at Saturday’s penultimate meeting of the Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club’s season.
In addition, the 1700m handicap is also the only Thoroughbred race on the card.
Not surprisingly, the race was oversubscribed and the maximum field of 16 should be guaranteed with four reserves available to replace any non-runners.
Ali Rashid Al Rayhi looks to hold a very strong hand with three runners all of whom have solid claims, including Lake Hawk the mount of stable jockey Tadhg O’Shea.
He may not win very often, in fact he is seeking just a second career victory on his 38th start, but he has run plenty of good races in defeat including when second under O’Shea over course and distance in February.
“There is sure to be a fast gallop with 16 runners,” said O’Shea. “That will suit my horse who knows his way around and should run another solid race.
“The yard also has both Qannaas and Mutual Force and they too must hold serious claims in a good race and well done to Sharjah for staging such a valuable contest.”
Al Rayhi the Master of Grandstand Stables, again utilises the valuable claim of Emirati apprentice Saeed Al Mazrooei aboard Mutual Force with the pair seeking their seventh victory together.
Most recently they landed a 2200m Abu Dhabi handicap in November but Mutual Force has won on the dirt at Jebel Ali and is also proven on the Sharjah surface.
The fast pace to which O’Shea alludes should certainly suit Al Mazrooei’s mount over this trip.
Meanwhile, Qannaas will sport the famous blue and white silks of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, after whom the race is named.
However, he will be ridden by Szczepan Mazur in the second colours with the owner’s retained jockey Dane O’Neill, electing to ride Entifaadha for Musabbeh Al Mheiri.
A very useful juvenile in England for William Haggas, seven year old Entifaadha actually made his UAE debut in the 2012 Listed Meydan Classic Trial on turf, when he was beaten a short-head in second.
Sadly, he still has not managed to open his local account and will be having his 25th UAE start and tenth on dirt.
Like Al Rayhi, Al Mheiri and Oasis Stables also have three chances with stable jockey Fernando Jara aboard Sogno D’Amore and apprentice George Buckell, partnering Court Room to complete the yard’s trio.
The Satish Seemar-trained Ru’Oud and Ballad Singer from the in-form Doug Watson’s Red Stables are others to consider in a very open contest befitting such a prize.
The best of the Purebred Arabian action is a 1200m handicap and Ernst Oertel saddles two for Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda with Richard Mullen deserting AF Khafajeh, a promising maiden, in favour of Ibn Harmany Al Zobair.
Mullen’s mount has one win to his name and has run well at Sharjah previously, whereas AF Khafajeh produced her best career effort when second here just last Saturday.
“It was not an easy choice to be honest,” said Mullen. “Both have solid claims and hopefully will go close.”
O’Shea was voicing similar sentiments having selected Eswarah over Bashayer from two runners trained by Eric Lemartinel on behalf of HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
“I could have picked either one as they have similar claims,” said O’Shea. “Sharjah form was the key with Eswarah a course winner but Bashayer has not yet shown her best on the track.
“The team has a strong hand anyway which is always the main thing.”
The final of the six fixtures at Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club this season is not until the second Saturday in March.