Sharjah Season Opener Gives Gopi Selvaratnam and Tom Marquand First UAE Winner

Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club staged their first meeting of the new season on Saturday afternoon, featuring a 1000m handicap, the only Thoroughbred race on the card and a landmark occasion for trainer Gopi Selvaratnam, as well as jockey Tom Marquand, who combined to land the spoils with War Spirit.

It was a first UAE winner for both and achieved relatively comfortably with the speedy War Spirit quickly away and soon dictating the pace.

Montmorency tried to go with him but it was Al Abyad who threw down a serious challenge, perhaps even leading for 100m, just after halfway.

However, Marquand and his mount regained the initiative 300m out and running on strongly, they were always holding the final challenge thrown down by Paranormal.

Marquand said: “It is great to get a winner and I go home this week so this is actually my last ride for this visit.

“It has been a brilliant experience and I am delighted to ride a winner, and a landmark one, for Gopi and the team who have given me this opportunity.”

Selvaratnam, who has taken over the reins at Jebel Ali Stables this season, added: “He has a lot of natural speed this horse and we were pretty confident coming here as we knew conditions would suit him.

“I am pleased for Tom who works hard and, obviously, it is nice to get that first winner on the board.”

The winner sports the black and yellow silks of Mohd Saeed Al Shahi, local racing manager to HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, patron of both Jebel Ali Stables and Racecourse.

The best of the Purebred Arabian action was a 1700m handicap in which Antonio Fresu made all the running on AF Kafu for Champion Owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda and his main trainer Ernst Oertel.

Fresu always looked content out in front and with 800m still to run most of his 12 rivals were toiling. MH Lazzaz threatened briefly on the home turn but he was burned off entering the straight and it was left to Al Harth to chase home the winner who was losing his maiden tag at the eighth attempt.

“He is only four and is finally understanding what is required,” said Fresu. “He has actually won that nicely and, hopefully can build on this.”

Connections looked likely to complete a quick double in the finale, a 2000m maiden, only for their representative, AF Abahe, to forfeit the lead and considerable ground by drifting very wide leaving the home turn.

He rallied but the winning post came too soon and, instead, it was jockey Sam Hitchcott and trainer Ibrahim Al Hadhrami who completed independent doubles, courtesy of Dream De Montjoi.

The meeting opened with a 1200m maiden which, from just after halfway, developed into a battle between stable companions Al Mobher and Al Muhalhal Al Thani.

The former, under Pat Dobbs, had seen off all his rivals in the centre of the course by the 400m pole but, on the nearside rail, his stablemate was staying on strongly under Royston Ffrench.

They drew level with 200m left, soon edging ahead and staying on well to provide trainer Al Hadhrami a 1-2, as well as his first winner of the campaign and initiating his double.

It was a case of third time lucky for Al Muhalhal Al Thani who had two starts earlier this year, once at Al Ain, the other at Abu Dhabi when he finished sixth on both occasions.

“That is a great result and perfect way to start the day and season here at Sharjah,” enthused Al Hadhrami who will be hoping to better his seven winners from last season.

Racing in the centre of the track, Baynah and, on the far side, Saklawi Al Reef, dominated the 1200m handicap pretty much from the outset, seemingly disputing the lead throughout the first stages of the race.

With about 300m left and the other 11 runners out of contention, Baynah began to exert his superiority, finally winning fairly comfortably and continuing the great starts to the season of his trainer, Helal Al Alawi and jockey, Pat Cosgrave.

A four-year-old filly, Baynah was losing her maiden tag at the seventh attempt and her trainer said: “The horses are running well and that is our fourth winner of the season.

“We put a visor on her today and it seems to have helped her. Now she has won, hopefully she can build on this.”

Cosgrave has partnered all four of the trainer’s winners thus far this campaign, as well as one for Godolphin, so was taking his tally to five.

Hitchcott will not ride many easier winners than his second of the campaign, debutante Es Al Bal who turned a 1000m maiden into a procession, the first of the jockey’s brace on the card.

Always at the head of affairs, the three-year-old filly shot ahead just over 200m out and crossed the line more than nine lengths clear.

Winning trainer Ibrahim Aseel was having just his third runner of the new season and said: “It is nice to get an early winner and she was impressive. We were quite hopeful of a good run but that was very good.”