UAE - There are over 800 Purebred Arabian horses in training in the UAE and the goal of every connection is to get them to the level where they can compete for the biggest prizes on offer for the breed during the season.
However, only an elite number will reach that high point where they can then dream about a shot at the $1 million Dubai Kahayla Classic (PA G1), on Dubai World Cup night.
Ever since he won the iconic race at Meydan Racecourse in 2019 with Af Maher, a horse that he bred in the UAE, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, has been in search of another contender who can relive that glory for him.
All eyes were on Af Maqam, who was bidding to win the HH The Ruler of Sharjah Cup Presented by Longines for the second straight year and propel himself into the reckoning for a chance to enter the big stage.
With stable jockey and ten-time UAE Champion, Tadhg O’Shea in the irons, the Al Nabooda camp was brimming with confidence ahead of the 1,700-metre contest, the highlight of the Sharjah Equestrian & Racing Club’s final meeting of the season.
And neither did Af Maqam nor O’Shea, disappoint. Opting to ride wide and away from the kick-back, O’Shea went for the line approaching the first half furlong and the response was immediate.
The progressive five-year-old son of Af Alsamaam rallied strongly when challenged by fellow UAE-bred Yas Xmnsor, ridden by Omani jockey Amur Al Rasbi, to prise out the victory by a neck.
With Af Alajaj, the winner of two Group 2 contests at Meydan, the Bani Yas, and Mazrat Al Ruwayah already a certified Al Nabooda contender for the Kahayla Classic in two weeks, it was always going to require a special effort from Af Maqam for him to enter the Dubai Kahayla Classic equation.
And while it was a huge effort from a young horse who showed that he had the heart for a battle, it may have come a little too late. Having raced off an official rating of 102 it remains to be seen just how much higher he will go up in the ratings after this to enable Al Nabooda to aim two challenges at the Purebred Arabian showpiece.
Whether he does or does not is a moot point as Af Maqam has earned his stripes and respect following a fifth career win from 11 starts, on both dirt and turf tracks.
Al Nabooda described the winner as a horse that he has always liked and believes that the best is yet to come.
“By Arabian standards, he is still maturing and we are obviously very excited to see how he progresses,” said the multiple-timer UAE champion breeder.
Al Nabooda, meanwhile, picked up a special award as the leading owner at the Sharjah Racing & Equestrian Club for the 2022-2023 season, where he has won a race at all of the venue’s six meetings since November.
Abu Dhabi-based specialist Arabian handler Ernst Oertel took home the top trainer’s prize while Richard Mullen was declared the leading jockey and also presented an award by Longines, the title sponsor of the Sharjah Racing & Equestrian Club.
The final day’s card also featured the Sharjah Marathon over 2,700 meters which was won by Kadar ridden by Richard Mullen, which helped him edge Tadh O’Shea to the jockey’s prize.
The evening concluded with a thrilling thoroughbred contest that was won by Dubai Vision and Ray Dawson who held off Perfect Balance, the mount of O’Shea by a short-head.
Only four domestic meetings remain this season with Abu Dhabi and Ali Ain hosting race days on either side of the $31,5 million Dubai World Cup on March 25 at Meydan.
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