AF Kal Noor Wins HH The Ruler of Sharjah Cup
22 February 2020, Sharjah, UAE ~ The final meeting of the current season at Sharjah Longines Racecourse on Saturday afternoon was highlighted by the HH The Ruler of Sharjah Cup, a 1700m Prestige contest turned into a procession by AF Kal Noor and jockey Tadhg O’Shea.
Riding for his main employer, owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda and trainer Ernst Oertel, a combination which won this prize in 2018 with subsequent dual Group 1 winner AF Maher under Antonio Fresu, O’Shea was winning the prize for a sixth time and fifth since 2014. The Al Nabooda AF Sanadek homebred 5-year-old was having just his third career start and remains unbeaten on dirt and this season. Seventh and third on his two Abu Dhabi turf appearances last season, he won a 1400m Jebel Ali maiden on his return this campaign, 99 days ago, by almost 16 lengths, so has now won half of his four career starts.
“I like this race and have a good record in it,” O’Shea said. “I thought this was a strong renewal, but this is a horse we have always really liked and we waited since Jebel Ali to run him in this. He is still learning and has plenty of maturing to do, but he is a nice horse and, we hope, one with a big future.”
VIDEO: HH The Ruler of Sharjah Cup
The opening 1200m maiden for horses foaled in the UAE, as is the case with so many races, was won by Al Nabooda, who enjoyed a Sharjah treble last Saturday, his main trainer Oertel, in double form last week, and retained jockey O’Shea. Raced just once previously, AF Lamia (No Risk Al Maury) was a well beaten fifth on that debut, over this course and distance but clearly learned plenty. Having tracked the pace on the nearside,with the 16 runners spread right across the course, O’Shea drove his mount to lead about 300m from home and the 7-year-old mare ran on gamely. Their task was made somewhat easier when eventual third JAP Tohfa drifted markedly across the course hampering runner-up ES Ghazi in the process, but the winner way well have prevailed regardless.
Al Nabooda, who also bred the mare, said: “I have a great team behind me with Ernst, his staff and Tadhg, so again thank them for another winner. Winning with home breds is extra special and she did that nicely today on just her second start.”
Connections appeared set to complete a rapid double when AF Taghzel ridden by Elione Chaves hit the front with only 100m left in the following 1000m handicap only to be caught right on the line by JAP Al Afreet, the rival that he had already swept past. Chaves was able to galvanise his mount to battle back, putting his head back in front where it mattered for trainer Irfan Ellahi. The Owner Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum, also bred the 7-year-old AF Al Buraq-bred horse. It was a second career victory, but first on dirt, having won a 1200m maiden on the Abu Dhabi turf in December 2018.
“That was very exciting the way he fought back,” Ellahi said. “I was not sure if we had won or not, but was hopeful he had prevailed and delighted when it was confirmed.”
The curtain came down on the Sharjah campaign with the Sharjah Marathon, a 2700m handicap won in 2019 by RB Grynade (Buring Sand) for HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Eric Lemartinel. Ridden then by Fabrice Veron, he repeated the trick, but with the Frenchman suspended, Bernardo Pinheiro took over in the saddle on this occasion. Sixteen may have gone to post, but very few were ever able to get competitive from the moment O’Shea sent eventual fourth AF Kafu to the front with just short of a circuit of the tight Sharjah track remaining. They soon had most of their rivals in trouble apart from Pinheiro’s mount who threw down the gauntlet 600m out. A fierce duel ensued for 300m when AF Kafu started to falter with the race seemingly in Pinheiro’s grasp only for his mount to drift markedly to the rail. Soon corrected by his jockey, he then stayed on and was always holding the late flourish of Favolo PY who flew home from a long way back.
Pinheiro, completing a double and also in winning action at Jebel Ali on Friday, said: “It has been a good weekend and this was a lovely spare ride to pick up, so I am very grateful to the connections for such a wonderful opportunity. Obviously, he won the race last year so I knew conditions suited him and he really battled from a long way out to get on top. He perhaps tired in the final stages but had enough left in the tank.”
On paper, the 1700m handicap looked particularly competitive, but MH Tawag (Bibi De Carrere) and Pinheiro made a mockery of that theory producing a totally authoritative performance which saw the race in safekeeping leaving the home turn before powering clear down the short Sharjah straight. Homebred by Mansoor Khalifa Sultan bin Habtoor and trained by Elise Jeanne, the 7-year-old was recording his sixth career success, but just second on dirt and a first victory since scoring over this course and distance just over two years ago. Having led early on, Pinheiro was then happy to track AF Arrab before retaking the lead leaving the back straight after which they never looked in any real danger.
Jeanne said: “We ran him here last week but he had a wide draw so could not get to the front, but stall seven was much better today and the jockey, who had never ridden him before, gave him a perfect ride.”
Skygazer has been a fantastic servant for Sheikh Mansoor bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Ali Rashid Al Rayhi since joining current connections at the end of 2014 and was winning for them for the eighth time when never headed under Sandro Pieva in the only Thoroughbred contest, a 2000m handicap. A twice-raced maiden for Godolphin and Charlie Appleby before joining Al Rayhi, the now 8-year-old Echo of Light gelding made his local debut in December 2014, but it was only in February 2016 he finally put his head in front over 2000m at Al Ain. This was his third victory over this course and distance, his other wins posted at Abu Dhabi, twice at Jebel Ali and once in China at Jinma Lakes.