x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Clasp can lift spirits further for UAE racing syndicate

EERC enjoying a good start to season, following last year's tragedies.

DUBAI // Members of the UAE's only racing syndicate today hope to celebrate a second victory at Meydan Racecourse this season by Clasp, a double that would rank at the opposite end of the emotional scale to the freak occurrence of seeing two of their stable die last year.

Indian Skipper, a promising runner who had finished second and third for the Emirates Entertainment Racing Club (EERC) in his Meydan Racecourse runs last season, died on the operating table during the summer. And Fingerprint, a new runner for the nearly 70-strong syndicate, suffered a heart attack following a second place in a pre-Carnival handicap at Meydan Racecourse and died in the tunnel on his way back from the track.

"It was devastating," said Justin Byrne, the founder of the syndicate, which has 12 horses in training. "It was terrible to lose Indian Skipper but to lose Fingerprint at the track was even worse. It was my worst night in racing. Afterwards, the vet said it could have happened at any time, but it was just such a sad thing to happen."

The syndicate's fortunes have showed signs of improving this season, with six winners so far. And with Clasp installed as the heavy favourite in the fourth at Meydan Racecourse today in the Tapeta mile, members of the EERC are hopeful of a seventh victory.

"It's been a pretty good run," Byrne said. "In previous seasons we've had to wait until December or even January to get a winner. This year we had a winner at the opening meeting in November."

That was certainly a day to remember for the syndicate; Kilt Rock romped to a six-length victory under the champion jockey, Wayne Smith, at the Jebel Ali Racecourse.

Since then the Doug Watson-trained five-year-old has discovered an affinity for Jebel Ali's uphill dirt finish, adding a further three victories.

"We are having a very good run," said Byrne, who has placed all his UAE runners with Watson, the former champion handler. "Of our last 11 runners we have had eight wins and two seconds."

Byrne, who buys all EERC runners out of the sales rings in the UK, also has two exciting horses in training in England. David Nicholls, the man who has just enjoyed two Carnival wins with Addictive Dream, is training Nosedive, a promising sprinter. Meanwhile, John Berry is conditioning EERC's Karma Chameleon, a three-year-old winner of his last four starts.

"We've come a long way," said Byrne. "I first got into syndication when we bought a five per cent share of a horse with a friend. It was just such a laugh."

A discussion later gave birth to the idea of starting a syndicate in Dubai that would allow racing fans to own a horse without being solely liable for expensive training fees.

"It was a huge gamble and I'm just lucky that my wife [Rebecca] likes horses," Byrne said. "But it has been a great ride and we are hopeful that there is a lot more to come."

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Clasp may be 10 years old and the smallest horse in the line-up at the start of the Tapeta mile handicap, but the big-hearted runner will also be the international favourite.

The EERC "superstar" has a reputation as one of the most consistent horses in training in Dubai, and with 92 career runs the chestnut gelding has plenty of experience.

Trained by Doug Watson and ridden by Patrick Dobbs, the diminutive Clasp is going for a second consecutive win, having triumphed over 1,900m of Meydan Racecourse last outing.

Justin Byrne, the EERC syndicate founder, hopes his old favourite can overcome a triple whammy of weight, draw and advancing years this evening. "It's not so much the other runners that worry me," he said. "It's more the weight he'll be carrying. He likes to be kept covered up as he's not the kind of horse that likes to go wide around runners and then we just have to hope for the breaks when they come round the final bend."

Clasp may be a victim of his own success; he won by eight lengths at Nad Al Sheba in 2009, and Byrne said "the original club superstar" does not run a bad race. "It's taken until now for his handicap mark to come down enough for us to run him in these types of races."

Mubarak bin Shafya's Graymalkin, a winner over course and distance on his last run, should challenge Clasp. The Satish Seemar-trained pair, Layali Al Andalus and Antinori, also may be heard from today.