The participation of international trainers, including Aidan O’Brien, in the HH The Emir’s Sword Festival this weekend is a testament of the meeting’s growing profile in the racing world, according to the chief of the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club.
This would be the second time that Nasser Sherida al-Kaabi’s administration will be at the helm of the affairs when Qatar’s biggest horse racing festival gets underway today, with million dollar Group 1 races for Thoroughbreds (HH The Emir’s Trophy) and Purebred Arabians (HH The Emir’s Sword) headlining the event.
Interest shown by some of the best trainers in the world has only made al-Kaabi a happy man.
Irish trainer O’Brien only cemented his stature as a dominant force when he ended 2016 with a record prize money haul of 8.1mn pounds, with Found leading a 1-2-3 sweep at the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Highland Reel taking the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
O’Brien has entered Group 2 winner Cougar Mountain for tomorrow’s Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Cup (Gr2). The three-time winner will be helmed by trainer’s son Donnacha.
“Aidan O’Brien is one of the best trainers in the world and he will have a horse in Qatar for the first time and he has entered a good horse,” al-Kaabi told Gulf Times.
“A lot of international trainers want to come and race in Doha. There are lots of international runners coming in for the meeting – from the UK, France, Germany, the USA. This is encouraging.”
“We are slowly progressing towards creating a greater international profile for the race meeting.”
Also making the trip will be two-time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O’Neill, who will bring along Royal Albert Hall, and Sir Michael Stoute, who will field Arab Spring in HH The Emir’s Trophy (Gr1).
In a first, Breeders’ Cup will have a presence at the three-day racing festival at the QREC. As part of a partnership forged in January this year, the two racing brands will exchange presenting sponsor titles at their respective championship races.
While Breeders’ Cup is the presenting sponsor for the Dukhan Sprint, which will be held on the third and final day of the festival on Saturday, QREC will be the sponsor of the Juvenile Turf Sprint Stakes on November 4.
“Breeders’ Cup is a partnership to exchange races between Qatar and the USA. I think having them here with the Dukhan Sprint is very important for us because of their big profile in America. I think it will give a big image boost for us, QREC, and also for them having a presence here,” al-Kaabi said.
With Qatar’s big presence in Europe with the Qatar Goodwood Festival and the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, is this step towards entry into the United States? “It is expansion for us into America but it is more of a media expansion than racing,” al-Kaabi clarified.
“As QREC we are focused on being an individual hub of racing with its own interest. At the same time, we like to expand internationally. So I don’t want to think about where we stand regionally. We are the best at what we do.”
The QREC GM was talking on the sidelines of a press conference with Al Emadi Enterprises CEO Mohamed Abdulkarim al-Emadi; Al Hazm is the sponsor of HH The Emir’s Silver Sword.
“He (al-Emadi) has been with us for eight years and I think we have one more year with him. We are hoping that we can extend this association,” al-Kaabi said.
For his part, al-Emadi said, “QREC have been successful at what they do and that success also reflects on us. We feel this is part of our support for the country. The government has been doing a lot for us, His Highness The Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has done a lot. His Highness will be here and we would be proud to be a part of such a successful event.”
He added: “We plan to extend our partnership beyond next year.”
The 1850m race for four-year-old Purebred Arabians is open to local individual Qatari owners.
Emir’s Silver Sword has been won by Jassim Ghazali’s wards for the last three years, with Khalifa bin Sheail al-Kuwari’s Spaghetti the latest victor.
“We are very happy to see a lot of runners (from Qatar) and I think it is great for everyone to see good runners, and even up against international competition,” al-Kaabi said.
“The level of horse racing is definitely going up in Qatar and I definitely want to see it go higher. I think the trainers too are motivated to showcase their horses in a big meeting like this. We will see in the next two days how good the horses really are.”
The racing festival will conclude with Emir’s Sword race, with all eyes on Al Shaqab Racing’s Al Mourtajez, who would have Julien Auge for company.
The Thomas Fourcy-trained colt will be going for the Triple Crown, which has a USD 1mn bonus for the winner, having won the first two legs – Qatar International Stakes (Gr1 PA) at Qatar Goodwood Festival and Qatar Arabian World Cup during the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe weekend.
“Al Mourtajez does have a good chance. But the field is large, 16 horses, and anybody can win. You never know on that day,” al-Kaabi signed off with a hint of caution.
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