Four defending champions feature among an enormous 321-strong entry, including no less than 105 horses from outside Qatar, for the six-race US$2.95 million (£2.22 million) HH The Amir Sword Festival at Al Rayyan Racecourse in Qatar on Friday February 21st and Saturday February 22nd. The overseas contingent hails from nine different countries on four different continents.
The Festival’s two biggest highlights are a pair of US$1 million races, HH The Amir Trophy (Presented by Longines), a mile and a half (2400m) contest for thoroughbreds and HH The Amir Sword (Sponsored by Al Hazm) for purebred Arabians over the same distance. French King and Ebraz, the 2019 winners of these two prizes, could both vie for repeat victories.
Trained in France by Henri-Alex Pantall, French King has proved himself on the world stage over the past 12 months, landing Group 2 events in Cologne and Hamburg followed by a Group 1 in Berlin.
He could again clash with last year’s second, third and fourth, Royal Julius, Hunting Horn and The Blue Eye, while a second German Group 1 scorer among the 57 entries, Roger Charlton’s Aspetar, could represent Britain, and the Aidan O’Brien-trained Mount Everest, a fast-finishing sixth in November’s Breeders’ Cup Turf, could fly the flag for Ireland.
Ebraz, trained in Qatar by Julian Smart, numbers HH The Amir Sword (Sponsored by Al Hazm) as one of his five Group 1 triumphs – and he also finished second in its 2018 renewal. This time around the seven-year-old has eight visitors from Oman among his 46 potential opponents, while Khataab, already successful twice at the top level and thrice in Group 2 company in his homeland, is one of two entries from France.
Another reigning champion, Anima Rock, trained in Qatar by Gassim Ghazali, heads the list of 48 entries for the US$250,000 (£187,970) Dukhan Sprint (Sponsored by Breeders’ Cup).
This six furlong (1200m) contest could also be the target for Make A Challenge, six times a winner for trainer Denis Hogan in Ireland last year, and for five inmates of the stable of the celebrated Japanese handler, Hideyuki Mori, whose intercontinental exploits date back to the last century when he won showpiece European events with the likes of Agnes World and Seeking The Pearl.
The 51-entry US$250,000 (£187,970) Al Biddah Mile is likely to see a rematch of last month’s Al Rayyan Stakes which saw Maystar, trained in England by Archie Watson, overcome Qatari and French opponents when beating Think Big and Happy Bere. That was over seven furlongs (1400m) whereas this time the all three-year-old field will have to cover the full mile (1600m).
A total of 58 purebred Arabians have been engaged in the last of Saturday February 22nd’s five showpiece events, the US$250,000 (£187,970) Qatar International Cup. Leading contenders for this (1600m) one mile contest are the recent Qatar Derby hero, Shalaa, trained in France by Thomas Fourcy, and last year’s runner-up, Al Naama, trained locally by Alban de Meuille, who recently took the notable scalp of Ebraz when landing a Group 2 over this course and distance.
Finally, 60 entries have been received for the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Cup, the only one of the Festival’s six main races to be staged on Friday February 21st. Trained in France by Jerome Reynier, Marianafoot could return to defend his crown in this US$250,000 (£187,970) one mile (1600m) affair.
Al Kaabi: Demonstration of our racing progress
The Qatar Racing & Equestrian Club (QREC) CEO, Nasser bin Sherida Al Kaabi, was delighted with the quality and variety of the entries.
“The huge number of entries is a demonstration of the progress of Qatar’s horseracing”, he said, “It also reflects the success of the organisers to attract international trainers and owners to enter their horses for the six international races of the Festival. The quality and variety of the horses entered promise that Al Rayyan Park will be home for top-class action at the highlights of our racing calendar.”