x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Horse racing: Sheikh Fahad Al Thani looks to add to rising stock in Britain

Dunaden and Chopin to run at Epsom as Qatari bids to secure his first major win in UK.

Sheikh Fahad Al Thani hopes Dunaden can deny his Dubai Sheema Classic conqueror, St Nicholas Abbey, in the Coronation Cup at Epsom.
Sheikh Fahad Al Thani hopes Dunaden can deny his Dubai Sheema Classic conqueror, St Nicholas Abbey, in the Coronation Cup at Epsom.

The next seven days could be a landmark week for the racing pretensions of Sheikh Fahad Al Thani.

Today, Havana Gold will represent the 23-year-old Sheikh and his two brothers, Sheikh Hamad and Sheikh Suhaim, at the Curragh in the Irish 2000 Guineas in which Fort Knox runs for the first time in the maroon and white colours of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Tomorrow, Just The Judge lines up as the widely-regarded favourite for the Irish 1000 Guineas at the same course.

Wind forward to next Saturday and Dunaden, the Sheikh's 2011 Melbourne Cup hero, faces a rematch with his Dubai Sheema Classic conqueror St Nicholas Abbey in the Coronation Cup at Epsom before his recent acquisition, Chopin, will try to deny Godolphin's Dawn Approach from becoming the 38th horse to complete the English 2000 Guineas and Derby double.

It has been a meteoric rise as an owner for the son of Sheikh Abdulla bin Khalifa, a former prime minister of Qatar, who sought out racing manager David Redvers only in 2010 and a major victory in Britain would put a seal on his burgeoning racing empire.

"I am enjoying being involved in Britain and my brothers are quite happy now, which is the most important thing," Sheikh Fahad said.

"We are now reaping the fruits that we have put in and this year we have plenty of nice two year olds to come through."

Many an owner has fallen over himself to highlight the potential of their juvenile string, but for Sheikh Fahad it is not only about guiding thoroughbred talent to achieve its potential.

Last year, it was announced that Harry Bentley was to be the No 2 rider to the Pearl Bloodstock operation behind Jamie Spencer for this European Flat season.

The 20-year-old Bentley finished seventh in the UAE jockeys' standings for the 2012/2013 season, riding out of Grandstand Stables and will partner most horses out of rookie trainer Olly Stevens' new Robins Farm yard just outside of London, which is patronised by Sheikh Fahad.

Stevens himself is only 33, a year older than Spencer, and it is clear Sheikh Fahad enjoys the role as mentor, despite his tender years.

"Harry Bentley came on to my radar two years ago," he said.

"As big owners we have a responsibility to take young people and bring them up through the game. It is why we have young trainers all over.

"He is a long-term project and we are giving him all the time and everything he needs to become a top-class jockey in the years to come."

The Sheikh's hands-on approach has certain complications. He has an almost insatiable thirst for knowledge and keeps tabs on all of his horses through daily bulletins not only from Redvers, but also from Spencer.

Spencer sends a detailed breakdown of all the Sheikh's horses he has ridden on any particular day by email, and the Sheikh's constant contact keeps the Irishman on his toes.

"When the boss is a good bit younger than you you've got to work that bit harder," Spencer said.

"I am very comfortable with my riding right now. It's the stuff you dream of working for this team. The boss is so hands on and understands race riding and all the different aspects to it. It is very helpful."

Spencer will ride both Dunaden and Chopin next Saturday. If Dunaden has been Sheikh Fahad's flagship horse after wins at Flemington, and in the Caulfield Cup and Hong Kong Vase, then Chopin could well be the future.

Chopin is Germany's highest-rated three-year-old colt after an eight-length success in a Group 3 at Krefeld last month and will be the first German horse to run in the Derby if, as is planned, Sheikh Fahad stumps up the £75,000 (Dh416,628) to supplement to the son of Santiago on Monday.

Trained by Andreas Wohler, who saddled Paolini to win the 2004 Dubai Duty Free at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse, the colt was bought privately by the Sheikh with the express intention of becoming his first runner in Britain's iconic race.

"After the horse won at Krefeld, all of our people were impressed," Sheikh Fahad added.

"I think the horse has a proper chance of finishing in the first four although it's a different thing to say that he could win.

"The Derby is the number one race in the world - the race you want to have a runner in.

"A race, too, that you want to have a runner with a proper chance, which is why we have not been represented until now."