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New Cup Race Highlights Sharjah Card

A welcome addition to the UAE Purebred Arabian calendar, the inaugural HE Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan Cup, is the official highlight at the second meeting of the new season at Sharjah Equestrian & Racing Club.

A 1700m Prestige contest, it has attracted a field of 14, including a pair trained by Eric Lemartinel for HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan with Tadhg O’Shea electing to ride Mawahib, leaving Jesus Rosales aboard stable companion Mahfouz.

From five previous starts, Mawahib has a single victory to her name, perhaps significantly on her only dirt outing thus far winning on her racecourse debut, over 1600m at Al Ain early last December.

She has kept good company since, normally running respectably and should appreciate the return to dirt.

Mawahib looks to hold serious claims, while her stable companion Mahfouz was winner of Sharjah’s biggest race last season, the Ruler Of Sharjah Trophy, over this course and distance in March and connections certainly hold no fears for him.

O’Shea said: “Eric and his team at Al Asayl certainly seem to hold a strong hand as both would appear to have serious claims and it was a tough choice between them.

“Mahfouz has a lot in his favour with his low weight and proven Sharjah form but Mawahib ran well on her reappearance, and I am hoping is an improving filly who is going to have a good season.”

Champion Jockey Richard Mullen partners Hamares for Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Saifaldin Deeb but must concede weight to all his 13 rivals.

He ran well on his reappearance and will be making his Sharjah debut. His one career win was on dirt, in December 2015 at Al Ain and, on his most recent visit there he was first past the post, but subsequently disqualified, so there is every chance the Sharjah surface will suit.

One horse who certainly relishes it is The Secret, trained by Doug Watson for HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum and who has recorded all five career victories here at Sharjah.

The last two successes have come in the most recent renewals of the 2700m Sharjah Marathon but he has won twice over 2000m and once over this 1700m so has to be feared under Sam Hitchcott.

“He saves his best for Sharjah, that is a fact,” said Watson. “He seems in top shape at home and, if he breaks well and can get a good position early on, he should be thereabouts in a competitive race.”

The only Thoroughbred contest is a 2000m handicap in which O’Shea partners Skygazer, a course and distance winner for his boss at Grandstand Stables, Ali Rashid Al Rayhi who also saddles Watheeq, victorious in this very race in both 2013 and 2015. Sheikh Hamdan owns the latter, to be ridden by his retained jockey, Dane O’Neill.

Al Rayhi said: “Obviously both are proven under Saturday’s conditions which can only be a plus.

“We thought Skygazer would run better at Jebel Ali than he did a fortnight ago but seems in good form since.

“Watheeq had a setback after winning this race two years ago, missing the rest of that campaign and did not show his best last season but has been going well at home.

“Hopefully, both can be competitive.”

Watson is responsible for a quarter of the 16 runners with stable jockey, Pat Dobbs, siding with Ballad Singer and Sam Hitchcott, also based with the American handler at Red Stables, choosing Hawker.