Trainer Saeed Bin Suroor with Naaeebb Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Sharjah: Racing begins at Sharjah Racecourse for the first time this UAE season on Saturday afternoon when a six racecard of five Purebred Arabian races and a solitary thoroughbred contest.

The weights are headed by Thaaqib, to be ridden by Fabrice Veron for Erwan Charpy and His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Twice a winner, once locally in a 2,000m dirt handicap at Meydan in February 2019, the six-year-old Invincible Spirit gelding will be hoping to make it third time lucky at Sharjah after two previous fruitless forays.

His stable companion, Wings Of Gold, remains a maiden after 16 starts, but on several occasions the five-year-old Raven’s Pass gelding has suggested his time is not far away. He is likely to be staying on well under Ryan Curatolo because he stays further than 1,700m.

Better known for their Purebred Arabian exploits, Champion Owner, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, his main trainer Ernst Oertel and retained jockey, Tadhg O’Shea, combine with Epsilon. A Desert Party gelding, the eight-year-old has clearly not been straightforward to train and has not had that much racing in recent seasons. A winner over 1,400m at Jebel Ali in March 2018, he has only been seen in public seven times since, but showed he retains plenty of ability when third, at Jebel Ali over 1,600m last November. His other career victory was posted over 1,700m at Presque Isle Downs as a 3-year-old, so Saturday’s trip should not be a problem.

O’Shea said: “He seems in good shape at home and we hope conditions will suit him. He is a nice horse in his grade and it would be nice to get his head back in front.”

Ali Rashid Al Rayhi relies on Faith And Fortune, who arrived in the UAE with Mike de Kock for the 2019 Dubai World Cup Carnival having won two of his three starts in Argentina. His local career has been disappointing with a pair of fruitless efforts for both De Kock and then Satish Seemar followed by three lacklustre outings for Al Rayhi earlier this year. If able to replicate the level of form he displayed in Argentina, the five-year-old Cityscape gelding is potentially very well handicapped and could be a big danger under Connor Beasley.

Another looking for a return to form is Naaeebb, to be ridden by Fernando Jara for Ahmad bin Harmash and seeking to add to his sole victory, on his UAE debut, in November 2017 when successful in a 1,600m Meydan maiden for Saeed bin Suroor and Godolphin.

Bin Harmash said: “He has been going well at home and has some good form at Sharjah, so we are hopeful he can at least go close.”

The best of the Purebred Arabian action is a 1,200m handicap in which most of the 11 runners appear to hold decent claims. The Al Nabooda and Oertel combination are well represented with O’Shea choosing to ride AF Meeqat from the yard’s three runners.

They are joined in the field by stable companions AF Thobor and AF Taghzel, the mounts of Szczepan Mazur and Adrie de Vries respectively.

O’Shea said: “These choices are never easy, especially when all three should run well. Hopefully I have picked the right one!”

Irfan Ellahi duo JAP Almahfuz and JAP Al Afreet, Richard Mullen’s mount Mulhim and top weight Shafaf appear among the main dangers to the Al Nabooda trio.

As with all UAE race meetings during these early stages of the new season, racing will be conducted under guidelines from the UAE government, following strict health and safety measures.