The $1 million H.H. The Emir's Trophy Presented by Longines, a group 1 in Qatar, has attracted an international field for the Feb. 24 renewal at Al Rayyan Racecourse in Doha—a group locals see as formidable.
The 16 entrants include graded stakes winner Money Multiplier, the Chad Brown-trained Lookin At Lucky ridgling who finished second in the 2017 Sword Dancer Stakes (G1T) at Saratoga Race Course, and first-ever entries from Irish trainer Jim Bolger and English conditioner Ralph Beckett.
The local contingent includes The Blue Eye, a 6-year-old son of Dubawi who won this race two years ago and recently captured the local trial, and Noor Al Hawa, second in last year's Trophy and winner of the 2017 Qatar Derby.
Money Multiplier returned in good order from a seventh-place finish in the Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes (G1T) Feb. 10, said Dean Lavy, racing and stud manager for the owner, Al Shahania Stud, after watching the 6-year-old gallop over the Al Rayyan course Feb. 22.
"He's consistent. He'll like the track," Lavy said. "I think the track will suit him. He's a competitive horse at this level."
Lavy noted "this level" is much improved in the fourth year the Trophy has been contested with recruited international competition. He cited Beckett's first-ever runner, Chemical Charge, a son of Sea the Stars last seen finishing fourth in the Longines Hong Kong Vase (G1) at Sha Tin in December—a race won by Highland Reel on his way to retirement.
Bolger makes his first foray to Qatar with the aptly named Qatari Hunter, a 5-year-old by Footstepsinthesand who will try to improve on a record that includes four wins at the handicap level in Ireland in 2016.
Others in the field have given a good account of themselves in group races in Europe. Quelindo is a former Horse of the Year in Hungary.
It's an open question whether the invaders' class will overcome travel and the unfamiliar surroundings of the Gulf nation, said Julian Smart, an English-born trainer whose career took him through Canada and California before he settled in Qatar eight years ago.
"I'll give you two answers to that question," he said of transitioning quickly to Qatar racing. "It's easy if you have a good horse. And, it's difficult. It totally depends on the horse.
"I have quite a good group of horses this year who hit the ground running," he added. "And I had one who took quite a long time to tell the trainer what he wanted to do."
Whatever answer emerges at the end of 2,400 meters (about 12 furlongs) on the Al Rayyan turf course, Smart said, "This is a super race. It's probably the best one there's been."
Smart saddled the third-place finisher in the 2017 Trophy, Fundamental, a son of Arch who finished fourth in the 2015 Hollywood Derby (G1T). His cause in this year's race was not helped when he drew gate 13 for Barwod.
The three-day program comprising the H.H. The Emir's Sword Festival also includes supporting Thoroughbred races at distances from 1,200 meters (6 furlongs) to 1,600 meters (one mile), and a full program for Purebred Arabians.