Sharjah: Omani apprentice Saif Al Balushi did himself proud when upstaging multiple UAE champion jockey Tadhg O’Shea to win the second running of the Dh150,000 GCC Cup presented by Longines Master Collection aboard Af Momtaz at the Sharjah Racing & Equestrian Club on Saturday.
Riding Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda’s seven-year-old homebred, Al Balushi took control of the 1,700 metre Prestige contest at the two furlong marker and never looked back till he hit the line with confidence, three quarter lengths clear of a chasing Af Motaghatres and O’Shea.
The winner was trained by Emirati handler Musabbeh Al Mheiri who was notching his 19th winner of the season and first at Sharjah, this season.
“It feels great to win a race like the GCC Cup,” said Al Mheiri. “Saif rode a very confident race aboard Af Momtaz who has finally broken his dirt track jinx.
“I always believed that the horse had the running style for dirt and that his day would come. And it could not have come at a better time, in a better race.”
The Emirati, who is based at the Oasis I Stables overlooking Meydan racecourse, was full of praise for Al Balushi and described him as a rider with a bright future.
“He is a boy with a strong personality in a quiet way,” Al Mheiri said. “He is very humble and works very hard.
“I was not surprised that he rode such a big race, because I know his capabilities.
“I could not have made a better choice when I gave him the ride on Af Momtaz. He has a bright future.”
Al Balushi admitted that he still feels a little nervous in big races but said that he was relieved to have kept his cool in a tight finish.
“I have really wanted to win a major race and when I hit the front at the 400 metre mark I felt that I could win the race provided I did nothing wrong,” he said. “I had a willing partner in Af Momtaz who responded very well when I asked him to go.
“It is a real special feeling when you beat a jockey like Tadhg O’Shea at the line. It’s given me a lot of confidence to complete my apprentice and become a full, professional jockey.”
Sharjah Racing & Equestrian club’s first meeting of 2020 featured six races in all, all sponsored by the racecourse’s pillar partner, Longies.
Meanwhile trainer Satish Seemar continued his strong season when he saddled Al Mustashar to win the concluding race on the card, the 1,200m Longines Record Collection handicap.
The winner was ridden by Seemar’s trusted ally, Richard Mullen.
Champion trainer Ernst Oertel claimed the honour of being the only professional to saddle a double when he won the opening two races on the day – the 1700m Longines Dolce Vita handicap with Af Mezmar and the 2,000m Longines Conquest Classic with Af Ajwad.
Sharjah host their final meeting of the 2019-2020 UAE flat-racing season on February 22, where the feature event is the traditional HH The Ruler of Sharjah Cup.