x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Dubai site of Sheikh’s big break

The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is the first hurdle as horses owned by Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad of Qatar attempt to win three of the most coveted races in the world in the space of a month. If that happens, Dubai's Meydan Racecourse can take a portion of the credit.

Treve, ridden here by Frankie Dettori, is one of the horses owned by Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad of Qatar that are poised to compete in three of the world's most prestigious races in the space of a month. Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images
Treve, ridden here by Frankie Dettori, is one of the horses owned by Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad of Qatar that are poised to compete in three of the world's most prestigious races in the space of a month. Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images

If Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad of Qatar conquers one of the summits of racehorse ownership by winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp with Treve on Sunday, Meydan Racecourse can take a portion of the credit.

It was at the flagship racecourse in the UAE that the brother of the current Emir of Qatar developed a taste for horse racing on the international stage.

Sheikh Joaan had his first thoroughbred runner in the provinces of France in 2010 when Fatih Al Keir, the first thoroughbred he ever bought, won the Prix Hector Fargues at Dax. It was hardly a contest that was going to set the pulse racing.

The victory of TM Fred Texas in the 2012 Dubai Kahayla Classic on a night when Godolphin secured a one-two in the Dubai World Cup with Monterosso and Capponi was an entirely different proposition. It was a night of racing that would hook anybody, least of all a young Sheikh with deep pockets.

“Dubai has a special place in Sheikh Joaan’s heart,” said Nasser Sherida Al Kaabi, his media director.

“He started with Arabians and his first major win was with TM Fred Texas. He won the race this year with Al Mamun Monlau. When you win a race like the Kahayla Classic with one of your first horses it becomes so attractive.

“He felt how wonderful it is to be in racing and wanted to push more, and have more racehorses.

“He has expanded his Arabian operation and has got into thoroughbreds. Dubai is where it all started.”

Planteur finished third in the World Cup that night. The horse was subsequently acquired by Sheikh Joaan and finished outside the top four on Saturday in the Sheikh’s grey and maroon silks in the Prix Dollar at Longchamp.

Mshawish, which is also owned by the Sheikh, finished outside the top four as well on Saturday in the Prix Daniel Wildenstein.

Trained by Marco Botti, Planteur is being aimed at the Breeders’ Cup Classic in Santa Anita, California, in November. With Sheikh Joaan’s Toronado well fancied for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Champions Day in two weeks and Treve in action on Sunday, Sheikh Joaan could in theory take out three of the most coveted races in the world in the space of a month.

If by some fortune the treble does come to pass, it was not by accident.

“Everybody would like to win the Arc and some of the best people have failed to win it,” Sherida Al Kaabi continued. “It is one of our objectives and it would mean we were one of the best racing organisations in the world.

“We have a project in our mind and that is to achieve the best results at the best tracks in the world. We have started small and are growing but we don’t want to have a lot of horses just for the sake of it.”

It is a mantra by which all of the Al Thani ruling family of Qatar currently run their racing operations.

Sheikh Fahad bin Abdullah and his two brothers, Sheikh Suhaim and Sheikh Hamad, have gone from strength to strength with firstly Sheikh Fahad’s Pearl Bloodstock operation run out of England by David Redvers, and then the combined trio of brothers under the Qatar Bloodstock banner.

Their father, Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa and his brother Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa have long been known for their Arabian operations but have recently bulked up their thoroughbred runners, also.

Sheikh Abdullah has Very Nice Name, who was third in the Dubai Sheema Classic in March, engaged in the Arc, while Sheikh Mohammed’s operation struck at the highest level last week at Newmarket when Vorda won the Cheveley Park Stakes.

While horse racing is a vehicle for Qatar’s royals to promote their country, it also allows them to score points off other family members in the process.

“I wouldn’t say they work against each other,” said Alexandra Newman, manager of Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa’s Al Shahania Stud.

“Competition between brothers and cousins is something that started in the Purebred Arabian circle and they are driven by healthy family competition.

“It’s like a rugby game. They will beat each other over the head on the track but out of competition they are very respectful to each other.”

It seems that this rivalry extends to the Sheikhs’ employees, also.

“The difference between Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Joaan is that one has been around for 30 years in the racing industry, has an established reputation and understands how the racing world works,” Newman added. “Sheikh Joaan is only 28 and sees it all as a new adventure.”

Treve’s chances of handing Criquette Head-Maarek, her trainer, a second success in the Arc after Three Troikas in 1979 were boosted on Saturday when Novellist, the impressive King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner, was ruled out with a temperature.

The unbeaten filly will break from stall 15 in a bid to become the first horse to win the race from a double-figure stall since Dalakhani in 2003.

In what can often be a race full of hustle and bustle, her slight frame is not ideally suited to the demands of a 17-runner field packed with colts.

Her turn of foot, however, is sublime and if Thierry Jarnet can position her off what is likely to be a slow pace she has the acceleration to burst clear of anything else in the race.

“She has the acceleration of Ravinella and the staying ability of Three Troikas,” Head-Maarek said of Treve in comparison to her 1988 French 1,000 Guineas winner and only Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe victor.

That is high praise indeed, but the talking stops Sunday afternoon when spectators get to see whether the newest superpower in racing can take a huge step forward.

sports@thenational.ae

The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is at 6.15pm on Dubai Racing Channel