Three days of horse racing began Feb. 25 at Al Rayyan Racecourse in Doha, Qatar as part of H. H. the Emir's 23rd International Equestrian Sword Festival at the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club.
The racing is the finale of eight days of horse-related events that started Feb. 20 with five days of shows celebrating the Arabian horse. The festival is being held under the patronage of H. H. the Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani.
“The Festival provides us with the opportunity to welcome people from all over the world who share our passion for the equestrian sport, and we look forward to forging new relationships and renewing many friendships at what promises to be our most exciting event to date,” QREC chairman H. E. Sheikh Mohamed Bin Faleh Al-Thani earlier this month.
Qatar’s marquee race, $550,000 H. H. the Emir’s Trophy, is set for Feb. 27 and is run at 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles). The race is considered a group I event.
The list of entries includes some familiar names on the international stage in 2013 Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) third-place finisher Very Nice Name and 2012 Gran Criterium de Saint-Cloud (Fr-I) runner-up Willie the Whipper.
The pair will face off in a 16-horse field against 2013 Qatar Derby winner Dubday, who will bid to keep his record perfect in Doha.
Sheail Bin Khalifa Al Kuwari paid $271,140 to acquire the son of Dubawi at Arqana’s Arc sale of horses of racing age last fall, and the former German group III runner-up has flourished in Qatar, winning both starts for leading trainer Jassim Ghazali.
He captured the Qatar Derby at 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles) Dec. 26 in his first start in Doha, and defeated more experienced horses, including runner-up Very Nice Name, in the Qatar Gold Trophy over 2,200 meters (about 1 3/8 miles) Feb. 6.
Very Nice Name has made eight starts in Qatar, posting a 5-1-1 record. The Gold Trophy marked only his second start in Doha this season, following a two-month break after a disappointing run in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) Oct. 6 at Longchamp.
The 5-year-old son of Whipper landed the Emir’s Trophy last year by 1 1/2 lengths and the H. H. His Highness the Heir Apparent Trophy in back-to-back victories to cap a five-race win streak for trainer Alban de Mieulle’s Umm Qarn stable.
The double marked the first time a horse has swept the festival’s two biggest races in the same year.
Very Nice Name will bid to halt a subsequent seven-race winless skid that includes his third behind St. Nicholas Abbey in the Dubai Sheema Classic last March at Meydan and second to Japanese star Orfevre in the Prix Foy (Fr-I) at Longchamp prior to an unplaced finish in the Arc.
Willie the Whipper also sold at the Arqana sale, bringing $162,684 from Chantilly Bloodstock. In two Qatari starts, he finished seventh to Dubday in the Qatar Derby but bounced back to win the Khor al Adaid Cup, considered a group III race, Feb. 4, for owner Khalifa Bin Sheail Al Kuwari. The son of Whipper also is trained by Jassim Ghazali.
An intriguing entrant is Mainsail, a half brother to the 2006 Arc winner Rail Link making his Doha debut for trainer Majid Safedeen. Winner of the 2013 Prix Bertrand du Breuil Longines (Fr.-III) at Chantilly for Juddmonte Farms, he now campaigns for Mubarak Saeed Aljafali Al Naimi.