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Manuel Hopes Major Can Lead Charge at Sharjah Saturday Feature

Ffrench Takes Ride in 2000m Meeting Highlight

Sharjah Racecourse stages the third of six fixtures held throughout the season on Saturday afternoon with a six race card, highlighted by a 2000m handicap for which just seven have been declared.

The weights are headed by Major, to be ridden by Royston Ffrench for Tony Manuel who has a good record with his runners at Sharjah.

Winner of a 2200m maiden on the Abu Dhabi turf in February, it remains his only career victory after 19 starts but he has run with credit on his two previous dirt outings, both times at Al Ain.

Manuel is having his first runners this weekend from his new base at Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club.

“Major seems in good form,” said Manuel. “The trip should be ideal for his first start of the season and he has shown he can run well on dirt so we have to be hopeful.”

He faces no easy task conceding weight to the other six, including Rabdan, the mount of Tadhg O’Shea and now prepared by Eric Lemartinel, previously the trainer of Major.

He won twice, over 2000m, on the Al Ain dirt surface, last season and has to be feared for his powerful connections but needs to show more than he did at Sharjah, over 1700m, last week.

“He will have improved for that outing,” said O’Shea. “The extra 300m is in his favour and he should go well in a decent little race.”

Doug Watson saddles both The Secret and Kokomo, split by the narrowest of margins over Saturday’s course and distance two weeks ago.

It was the former and Dane O’Neill who gained the verdict for HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, nailing Kokomo and Pat Dobbs in the very last stride.

“They both ran really well two weeks ago,” said Watson. “I was not sure who had won when they crossed the line and there should be very little between them again.”

Balad Al Reef was third behind the Watson duo a fortnight ago and, on the revised terms, there should be little between the three this time. Richard Mullen rides for Abdallah Al Hammadi.

The only Thoroughbred contest, a 1700m handicap, looks competitive with a field of 14 declared.

Sheikh Hamdan’s famous blue and white silks have been carried to victory in both the previous Sharjah Thoroughbred races this season with runners trained by Ali Rashid Al Raihe. They combine here with Alraased, the mount of O’Neill.

Seeking his first UAE victory, on what he will be his 11th local outing, O’Neill’s mount did win twice in England for John Dunlop, on Polytrack.

However, he will need the switch to Sharjah for the first time to have a dramatic impact as his six previous dirt outings have been disappointing.

That said, he will not find many weaker races than this one.

Few of the 14 can boast winning form on dirt, but one who certainly can is Periphery, twice a winner from three starts on the surface, all at Jebel Ali.

However, those efforts were in early 2013 and he has not been in action since. Then trained by Mubarak bin Shafya, this will be his first outing for Mohd Al Subouse and Christopher Hayes comes in for the ride.

Watson saddles both Famous Warrior and Mukhabarat with preference definitely for the former, the choice of stable jockey, Pat Dobbs.

Winner over 2000m on this course last March, he looked to tire badly on his seasonal return and should strip fitter here in a weaker race.

Sam Hitchcott partners Mukhabarat who has shown precious little in his four UAE outings to date.