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Watson builds momentum with Sharjah win

Former champion handler saddles Storm Belt to impressive victory

Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News
AF Shbas, ridden by Daragh O’Donohoe, wins the first race at Sharjah Equestrian and RacingClub yesterday.
Gulf News

Sharjah: After a rather slow start to the season, Doug Watson’s championship-winning Red Stables appear to be picking up the pace triggered by Thursday night’s meet double at Meydan Racecourse.

On Saturday, Watson claimed the main thoroughbred event on the card when he saddled ex-Godolphin Storm Belt to an authoritative six-length victory, his first of the season at Sharjah.

Fourth to Dubai Iconic on his last appearance at Meydan’s opening meet of the season, the Darley-bred colt broke roughly from the outside gate but found a good position off the pace. As the race for home began Storm Belt accelerated to take the lead and draw away for an impressive victory under Pat Dobbs.

It was the winner’s first appearance at Sharjah, following starts at Jebel Ali and Meydan, and the manner of his victory on Saturday suggests that he could now have success at any track in the UAE.

Watson, who thinks highly of the horse, said: “We thought we’d win the maiden the other night at Meydan till Surfer ran in that. So we decided to go here instead. We drew the 15th hole but Pat gave him a terrific ride from there. He has progressed nicely and hopefully he improves a little more and we’ll have a nice big, strong horse on our hands.”

Highlighting Storm Belt’s marked improvement following his last-place effort at Jebel Ali in January this year, and his subsequent fourth to Dubai Iconic, the trainer commented: “We got him late last year and ran him the one time at Jebel Ali. He didn’t like the bend and blew the turn and never recovered after that.

He just needed to grow up a bit so we gave him the summer off and he’s really strengthened up, He is what he is. I don’t think he’s a Carnival horse but he’s a nice horse to have in the yard that’s going to win races.”

Ernst Oertel, another trainer whose stable seems to have found a nice rhythm, added another winner to his repertoire when Benyan clinched the Purebred Arabian maiden over 1700m.

However, the UAE-bred three-year-old colt got the toughest challenge of his fledging career from the promising Pap Rahaal whom he only just nosed out at the wire in a two-horse finish.

Earlier Al Ain-based handler Anthony Manuel notched his second win of the season at Sharjah when AF Shbas landed the opener in the capable hands of Darragh O’Donohoe.

There was a tussle for the lower places with the David Smith-driven Jap Mizoon denying Mefraas and Fylthy Rich, with a neck and neck separating the three progtagonists.

Champion trainer Ali Rashid Al Raihe opened his account at Sharjah courtesy the Dane O’Neill-piloted Alfirsaan in the 1200m maiden sponsored by Sharjah Sport.

The winner prevailed by a neck from Oertel’s Richlore, hard-ridden by Tadhg O’Shea for the most part of the sprint.

Tunisian Arabian handler Julio Peromingo got his season off to a start when SNF Maher scored by a neck from Kalahari Desert in the Sharjah Islamic Bank Conditions event over 2000m.