An eight day gala in Qatar’s capital city of Doha, by the name of The Emir 24th International Equestrian Sword Festival, under the patronage of the Emir of Qatar, Prince Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, and encompassing three events – an international ECAHO A-ranked show, an international show for Straight Egyptian horses and a race meeting with the most important stakes for The Emir’s Sword, with a purse of 3 million riyals (about 3 million PLN) – is
one of the most prestigious festivities for Arabian horses in the Middle East. So it’s no wonder that the gathering, which lasted from February 19th to 26th, drew crowds of Arabian horse lovers from all over the world. The organizer – Qatar Racing & Equestrian Club, currently celebrating its 40th anniversary – made sure that the guests had plenty of attractions. In breaks between subsequent points of the program guests could take advantage of touring the Museum of
Islamic Art, the traditional Souq Waqif marketplace and visiting several of the most important Qatari studs, including Al Shaqab, which ended in a gala dinner. The hosts of the event kept themselves busy not only to avoid anyone being bored (which would have been difficult), but mainly so that no one would feel left without care. Definitely the hospitality and thoughtfulness of the organizers were a huge asset of the entire event – beside the high quality of the competition, valuable in-kind (cars) and money prizes, as well as the comfortable tribunes of the Racing & Equestrian Club.
However just the place itself is already an attraction. Qatar, the wealthiest country in the world in terms of per capita income, is a country under construction, intensively preparing itself for the FIFA World Cup in 2022. The slogan “Qatar deserves the Best” can be seen everywhere on the streets of Doha, a cosmopolitan metropolis, stuck in traffic. The district of futuristic West Bay skyscrapers (the most known include Al Fardan Residences, Tornado Tower, Burj Qatar and Al Bidda Tower) can easily be called the Manhattan of the Middle East. If today we have a feeling that
we are already in the future, then one can only imagine what the city will look like in the years to come, as the architects’ visions and investors’ funds know no limits. Another of the renown towers, located closer to the sports and recreation facilities, dominating over the entire area, the 300 m Aspire Tower (The Torch Doha), designed by Hadi Simaan, sort of supervised the event, as it was visible from every part of the arena. But Doha is not only climbing upwards. The Katara Cultural Village, encompassing an area of one square kilometer, is a place for concerts, cultural events, meetings and casual strolls. It is here that numerous organizations have their main offices,
such as Qatar Fine Arts Society, Visual Art Centre, Qatar Photographic Society, Childhood Cultural Centre, Theatre Society and Qatar Music Academy. In turn The Pearl is an artificial island of an area of 4 square kilometers, taken up mostly by the most expensive apartment buildings. Those looking for sports adrenaline will also find something for themselves – some tens of kilometers from the capital, in the desert, they will find the perfect conditions this time of year for horse riding, camel rides, quad races or paragliding.
We must also add that winter in Qatar turned out to be full of surprises. For the first two days of the show the participants tried to hide from the burning sun and a temperature of over 30 degrees Celsius and for the next – they complained about the cold and haboob wind, covering everything in desert dust. However the only ones complaining were the guests. The inhabitants of Qatar value the coolness of the winter months. We must remember that in the summer the heat often surpasses even 50 degrees. In those conditions the horses don’t leave their stables and people don’t leave their air-conditioned lodgings.
The international show: a Polish National Champion bests World Champions
Qatar is one of the few Middle Eastern countries that organizes shows in accordance to ECAHO rules, an organization which it joined in 1994. The supporters of Polish bloodlines could be fully satisfied by the results of the international show, which has a long tradition and was held already for the 24th time. Polish bred mares, competing under the banners of their Middle Eastern owners – Norma (Al Muawd Stud, Saudi Arabia), Pinga (leased by Aljawza Stud, Saudi Arabia) and Piacolla (Athbah Stud, Saudi Arabia) all took the podium. Norma and Piacolla claimed the gold, whereas Pinga the bronze. Orla Turnia (Al Thumama Stud, Qatar) received the title of Top Five,
while Perfinka (Al Muawd Stud), the silver champion from last year’s show, won her class with a terrific score of 93,13 pts. Eshila, second in her class, also did well. Polish breeding definitely has nothing to be ashamed of. Especially since the Polish mares competed not only against the representatives of the mighty Al Shaqab Stud (which were playing “at home”), but also many show stars known from European and Middle Eastern arenas. There were 238 horses entered into the classes! However on the arena we saw just about half of each class. On Thursday, in the A series of the yearling fillies’ class, there were just 8 out of the 20 entered fillies. The first to perform with Giacomo Capacci was Bohour Al Shaqab (Kahil Al Shaqab – Wind Kamelia/WH
Justice), who became the winner and later the silver medalist of the yearling fillies. In this series, similarly to series B, there were no Polish-bred mares and Poland was only represented by judge Marek Trela. The B series was also won by an Al Shaqab charge, Sultanat Al Shaqab (Marwan Al Shaqab – OFW Mishaal/Mishaah), who took the gold in the finals. What’s interesting is that we also saw the daughter of Primera and Emerald J, Hajer Al Muawd, who received a high score of 92,25 and placed second, later taking the bronze; and the Qatari daughter of Janów’s Elsterina by Aslan and Kahil Al Shaqab, Maha Umm Al Udham (7th place).
The born in Falborek Eshila (Kahil Al Shaqab – Estaka/Gazal Al Shaqab) was presented in the A series of the 2 year olds fillies’ class and did very well, gaining 91,5 pts and second place, behind AJ Reeda (AJ Portofino – AJ Raheda/WH Justice) from Ajman, the soon-to-be silver champion. Victorious in the B series was the well-known in Poland – due to the Al Khalediah European Arabian Horse Festival in Nowe Wrońska – Mounira J (Emerald J – Magnificent Lady J/Extreme), bred in Belgium by Christine Jamar. Right behind Mounira J, who soon took the bronze, placed the afore mentioned Orla Turnia (Shanghai EA – Orlanka/Aslan), bred by StanRed Arabians, who in the hands of Dana Al Meslemani, the ambitious owner of Al Thumama Stud and manager Hilke De Bruycker, has a good chance at a very successful show career, which we could already see at the World Championships in Paris. Among the 3 year old fillies (A and B series)
were several daughters of Polish mares, for example Penelope K and Pyronia KA (both with the same pedigree: QR Marc – Polonia). All were bested by Piacolla (Enzo – Polonica/Ekstern), shown by Tom Schoukens, who achieved a score of 92,25 pts (the winner of the A series and later Top Five, Sahwat Al Khalediah by El Palacio VO, received 91,63 pts.). Michałów’s graduate draws attention with a shapely head and graceful movement, for which one judge surprisingly gave her just 17,5 (other: 19,5 and 19). Perhaps it was a mistake, which either way did not prevent her from winning.
After a lunch break the podium in the 4-6 year old mares’ class was taken by storm by the peerless Perfinka (Esparto – Perfirka/Gazal Al Shaqab), born in Białka and leased by Al Muawd Stud. Representing Ajman Stud in the 7-10 year old mares’ class, El Saghira (Galba – Emira/Laheeb), placed third, while the class was won by the Qatari Anood Al Nasser by Ashhal Al Rayyan, who later went on to take the silver. Whereas the senior mares’ (11 years and above) saw a confrontation that all fans of Polish Arabians were waiting for: Norma versus Pinga! The Polish stars also had to face 2006 World Champion Bess Fa’Izah (WH Justice – Sharon El Kendal/Ass Kendal). In comparison to the international stars good performances were also delivered by: the Stanisław Redestowicz-bred Kashira (Magnum Psyche – Kahila IV/Ibn Bint Inas), who however placed only 6th and the graduate of Chrcynno-Palace Stud, the fifth in this class Pallas-Atena (Ecaho – Pelisa/Europejczyk). Both are owned by the Saudi stud of Al Rahija. The opening act in
this class, Bess Fa’Izah, owned by Ajman Stud and presented by Frank Spoenle, did not let others push her around and received as much as 93,38 pts (including six “20s”) – however this was not enough to beat the Polish-born rivals. Janów’s World Champion from 2012, Pinga (Gazal Al Shaqab – Pilar/Fawor), received a round 94 pts from the judges (including as many as twelve “20s” – five for type, one for head and neck and a full set for movement!). It seemed that this score was unbeatable. However it soon turned out that it was possible to go even higher. The Michałów-bred Norma (Gazal Al Shaqab – Nina/Monogramm) had her day. Her femininity and beauty of the perfect Arabian mare literally brought the judges to the ground. Despite her one “20”
less she won with Pinga thanks to higher notes for body and topline – two “19s” and four “18,5s”. Her final score of 94,38 pts turned out to be highest of the show. And so a Polish National Champion bested two World Champions, ending an extremely emotional day devoted to mares. But it was not the end of attractions, because the evening included the Festival’s opening ceremony during which we saw, among others, marvelous performances of the famous Lorenzo, who like no one else makes us believe that the bond between horse and man is indeed magical.
Friday, which in Qatar is a day free from work like our Sunday, saw the presentation of stallions in the afternoon hours. The yearlings (divided into A and B series) roused mediocre emotions among the judges – only the later gold champion Amaar Al Nasser (EKS Alihandro – Remaa Al Nasser/Ashhal Al Rayyan) from Al Nasser Stud, received a very high score of 92 pts, however without any “20s”. Among the 2 year olds the highest score, 92,13 pts, was claimed by Loay Al Khalediah (El Palacio VO – Llayla/El Nabila B), who was also later crowned gold champion. In turn the best 3 year old among as many as 14 participants in this class was the later
silver medalist Hadidy Al Shaqab (Gazal Al Shaqab – White Silkk/Dakar El Jamaal) from Al Shaqab – 92,13. The 4-6 year old stallions were divided into 2 groups. What’s typical for the Qatari show is that stallion classes are more numerous than the mare ones – exactly the opposite to European shows, especially in the senior categories. The highest score (93) and later the silver was claimed by the son of Marquis CAHR and Destiny Bint Eternity-D by Eternity Ibn Navarrone-D, owned by Al Khalediah Stables, Lammah Al Fahadeah.
The most interesting rivalry among the stallions was witnessed in the 7-10 year olds class. The born in Belgium Memphis 27 (El Amin – SA Misha Apal/AS Natsir-Apal), owned by Ajman Stud and presented by Frank Spoenle, clashed against the excellently moving and strongly cheered on Mountasser Al Zobair (Khidar – Falaa Al Shaqab/Gazal Al Shaqab) of Saudi ownership and handled by Paolo Capecci. However the score of the latter – 92,25 – did not allow him to beat the Ajman star. Memphis 27 received as many as 93,38 pts, which translated to the gold in the finals. Mountasser Al Zobair had to settle for the title of Top Five. In the final class we witnessed the victory of BS Paparazzi (KAR Papageno – Sivka/Strike) over IM Bayard Cathare (Padrons Immage – Shamilah Bagheera/Nadir I), who in the championship took his revenge by claiming the title of Top Five. And so, late in the evening, on a brightly lit arena, the class competitions came to an end.
Of course in Qatar the strength of Al Shaqab is especially visible – a huge number of contestants from that stud were presented in the ring. The largest group were the get of Marwan Al Shaqab (12 daughters and sons), then Kahil Al Shaqab (7) and seventeen other sires with the suffix of “Al Shaqab”). It was clear that this breeding has a bright future ahead and it was even more evident during the later visitation of the stud. We will definitely see more than a few of the presented foals on podiums of the most prestigious shows in the years to come. “I think ‘future’ is the one word that would define my focus since becoming manager of Al Shaqab’s breeding and show department in 2009”, wrote Mohammed Al Sulaiti in “Arabian Horse World” (11/2013). We must add that we are talking about a stud where almost a hundred foals are born every year.
The championships were held on Saturday afternoon, with 35 stallions and 26 mares. That’s because 3 or 4 horses qualified from each class, depending on the number of entries. The results were easy to predict, because the gold medalists could be chosen only from among the class winners. Norma’s medal seemed unthreatened – which was later confirmed. Pinga received the bronze. Unfortunately there was no room in the top Five for Perfinka, which was a huge disappointment in regard to her fantastic class victory. Piacolla did not let anyone take the gold away from her, while Orla Turnia ended up with a Top Five title, which was not the case with Eshila.
The Straight Egyptian championships
The Sunday and Monday afternoons were reserved for Straight Egyptian horses.151 entries, less absences on the arena, but also lesser known names – that’s how we can summarize two days of rivalry in the fifth edition of the show. Poland, as could’ve been expected, was represented only by judge Anna Stojanowska. Whereas the most busy judge turned out to be Irina Stigler (Russia), who judged both shows and so spent 5 days on the arena, first in great heat and then exposed to very cold winds. For observers not acquainted with Straight Egyptian breeding the stallion classes were very interesting, in which we could see F Shamaal (Maysoon – Sarameena/FA Ibn Sar), who won the 11 years old and above male class and Shagran Al Nasser (Ansata Selman – Dana Al Nasser/Mujahid), of Qatar ownership, winner of the 7-10 year old males class. “We saw a group of very beautiful horses”, says Anna Stojanowska. “I was personally most impressed with the winner of the senior mare championships, Nabila Al Rayyan (Sinan Al Rayyan –
Ansata Nefer Isis). A wonderful grey mare of great beauty, correct and feminine, she could definitely win at non-Straight Egyptian shows too. Also the chestnut Shagran Al Nasser, the winner of the senior stallion championship, is an extremely handsome horse. In general those that won were those that stood out and were simply the best. Unfortunately there were also a lot of horses presenting lower quality. The way that Egyptian horses look today often leaves a lot to be desired. It happens that breeders focus solely on a pretty head, which leads to losing other important traits. I have even heard an opinion that an Egyptian horse doesn’t have to move or have a long neck. Whereas all Arabian horses descend from one source – they were once utilitarian horses, whose task was to cover great distances in difficult conditions. I’m afraid that forgetting about that we lose the connection to nature in these animals, bred for movement and space. When judging Egyptian horses you have to change the way you perceive the horse, put personal preferences aside. However I do believe that legs are always important, regardless of what
bloodline the horse descends from. There are Egyptians that are balanced, correct, proportional, so it is not impossible to achieve such a horse. Although a smaller number of entries attests to the fact that it is not easy to find Straight Egyptian horses being able to participate in such a prestigious event. I think that the best results are obtained by those breeders who allow the addition of foreign blood. Just like in Poland we have long ago decided to add Egyptian blood, also the Egyptians usually benefit from crossing with Polish or Russian genotypes.”
750 thousand Euro in one race
The culmination of the three day race meeting (February 24th-26th), attended by the world racing elite, mainly from France and the UK, was a race for 4 year old and older Arabian horses – H.H. The Emir’s Sword (Gr 1 PA) over a distance of 2,400 m. The race was held for the first time in 1989 and in 2012 it was pushed to February so that it could be part of the Festival. It was in this race that the largest amount of prize money was to be given out – as much as 3 million riyals (about 750 thousand Euro)! A victory in this race is the dream of every trainer, jockey and horse owner in Qatar. However before the most important moment, there were 9 races for Arabians and Thoroughbreds during the first two days, as well as a dinner gala in the banquet hall of the luxury Saint Regis hotel, attended by, among others, world renown French tennis player, winner of the 2013 Wimbledon, Marion Bartoli, who has been riding since youth and an ambassador of the
Qatar Festival since last year. The facility where the meeting took place, the track on the premises of the Qatar Racing & Equestrian Club, is a recognizable brand. Established in 1975, managed by Mr. Sami Jassim Al Boenain with HE Sheikh Mohamed Bin Faleh Al Thani as the head of the Board of Directors, plays a major role on the international racing scene today. It was QREC that was the pioneer of racing organization in the entire region, as well as in establishing the rules for racing sports in Qatar. Today the facility hosts 60 racing days per season (between October and May) on a modernized in 2001 Al Rayyan Racecourse, which has at its disposal a
grass track (1,600 m in length and 27 m wide) and – built in 2011 – a sand track (1,590 in length and 17 m wide). In the 2014/2015 season 272 Arabian horses participated in the races, among them 175 bred in Qatar. The best of them, after ending the season in the Middle East, will continue their career on foreign tracks, also European ones. On a regular racing day there is about 2,000 people, but as Director General Sami Jassim Al Boenain told us, the race on the last day of the Festival could’ve been witnessed by even 10 thousand people! It’s true, the tribunes were bursting at the seams.
The triumpher of this great race, winner of the Golden Sword and 1,710 thousand riyals for Al Shaqab Racing was the experienced jockey Julien Augé atop the trained by Thomas Fourcy horse Al Mourtazez (Dahess – Arwa/Nuits St Georges). In turn the Silver Sword (and the prize of 570 thousand riyals from a prize pool of one million riyals) from the hands of Prince Abdullah bin Khalif Al Tani, the uncle of the Emir of Qatar, went to the 14 year old Khalifa Al Kuwari, the owner of the equine winner of the sixth race – H.H. The Emir’s Silver Sword (Gr 1) for 4 year old Arabian horses of Qatar ownership over a distance of 1,850 m. This horse is the unbeaten so far Al Murabitoon (AF Albahar – Opale du Croate/Dormane). He is trained by Jassim Al Ghazali, the top
trainer in Qatar, who has almost 200 horses under his care. Al Ghazali, who began his career 19 years ago, is associated today with Al Shaqab Racing, among others. During the last season he won 140 races. Murabitoon was led by the West Sussex native, 24 year old Harry Bentley, a revelation of the past season, winner of the December Qatar Derby (atop Dubday) and 31 other races. “You are only ever as good as the horses you are riding”, he said in one of his interviews. “I am lucky that I ride for Jassim Al Ghazali, who has a lot of good horses.”
The races were accompanied by not only sports emotions. French millionaire Laurence Bossion once again took up the task of singling out the most elegant women from among the audience and convincing them to participate in the “Competition of Elegance” contest. Here we must add that during the main events of the entire Festival a dress code was obligatory – men were asked to come in national attires or in suit and tie and the women were advised to wear dresses at least knee-length and to resign from wearing shoulder strap tops.
Everything seems to indicate that the last week of February in Doha will simply be the place to be for a growing group of Arabian horse supporters. “In the mid 90s, when I attended my first IFHA (International Federation Of Horseracing Authorities) conference in Paris, a lot of people asked me what language do we speak, maybe Portuguese or Spanish, where is Qatar on the map”, recalled Mr. Sami Jassim Al Boenain. “Today nobody asks these kind of questions. Everybody knows where Qatar is”.