February 19th 2020 – French King, successful in three of his four starts since winning in Doha 12 months ago, heads a top class contingent of 23 international horses taking part in 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 fixture has also attracted some of the world’s top riders. Oisin Murphy, the reigning British Champion Jockey, will be aboard one of French King’s biggest rivals, the American-trained Curlin colt, Standard Deviation, for Saturday’s thoroughbred highlight, the US$1 million HH The Amir Trophy (Presented by Longines).
Other luminaries of the saddle in action at the meeting include no less than five past and present French champions – Maxime Guyon, Christophe Soumillon, Pierre-Charles Boudot, Stephane Pasquier and Olivier Peslier– not to mention two men, Adrie de Vries and Eddie Pedroza, who have landed the riding title in Germany.
A Group 1 winner in Berlin last August, French King is trained in France by Alex Pantall. He won last year’s HH The Amir Trophy (Presented by Longines) by a length and a quarter from his fellow countryman, Jerome Reynier’s Royal Julius, with Hunting Horn, representing Ireland, and The Blue Eye, representing Qatar, filling the next two places.
All of the first four home are back for another crack at this prestigious mile and a half (2400m) turf contest. Peslier will again ride French King while Pasquier maintains a partnership with Royal Julius that three months ago brought victory in the Bahrain International Trophy just 65 miles from Doha in Bahrain.
Successful in Group 2 company in Australia in October but subsequently sold to join the Qatari handler, Ahmed Kobeissi, Hunting Horn will this time be ridden by Ryan Curatolo while Theo Bachelot gets the leg up aboard Gassim Ghazali’s The Blue Eye, winner of this race in both 2018 and 2016.
The other two French visitors in the line-up, Pedro Caro (Tony Piccone) and Mr Satchmo (Mickael Barzalona), have both already proved themselves well suited to conditions at Al Rayyan. Trained by Mauricio Delcher, Pedro Caro landed the Qatar Derby here in December, while Antoine de Watrigant’s Mr Satchmo was runner-up, beaten a short head, in the 2018 renewal of that race.
A recent recruit to the barn of Kentucky Derby-winning trainer, Graham Motion, having previously raced for Chad Brown, Standard Deviation has not raced since finishing third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar in November. He completes the foreign representation among a 13-strong field.
Saturday’s other US$1 million event is HH The Amir Sword (Sponsored by Al Hazm), a mile and a half (2400m) contest for Purebred Arabians. Lovers of Arabian Racing are in for a treat here as a ten-runner field includes many of the world’s best, most notably Ebraz, Khataab, Tayf and Yazeed, first, second, fourth and fifth in the Group 1 Qatar Arabian World Cup at ParisLongchamp last October.
Trained in Qatar by Julian Smart, Ebraz (Peslier) is going for a hat-trick in this race, having won it in 2019 and 2017 not to mention finished second in 2018. Trained in France by Thomas Fourcy and the mount of Jerome Cabre, Khataab has two career Group 1 triumphs to his name compared to Ebraz’s five and will be racing outside Europe for the first time, though he has already finished in front of Ebraz in one of their three clashes.
Fourcy has another strong chance with Shalaa (Julien Auge) in Saturday’s main support race for Purebred Arabians, the US$250,000 (£187,970) Qatar International Cup, which is contested over one mile (1600m).
Shalaa recently lifted the Qatar Derby over an extra quarter mile of this track. His 15 opponents include four from Oman plus 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.
Back with the thoroughbreds but remaining over a mile, the US$250,000 (£187,970) Al Biddah Mile sees a rematch of December’s Al Rayyan Stakes when Maystar, trained in England by Archie Watson, overcame Think Big and Happy Bere. That was over seven furlongs (1400m) and further spice is added to this event because Think Big, trained in Qatar by Georges Mikhalides, will be ridden by Tom Marquand, taking on his girlfriend, Hollie Doyle, aboard Maystar.
Reigning champion, Anima Rock, representing the Ghazali/Bachelot trainer/jockey combination, heads a field of 11 for the US$250,000 (£187,970) Dukhan Sprint (Sponsored by Breeders’ Cup).
This six furlong (1200m) contest has attracted five international contenders including Make A Challenge (Joe Doyle), six times a winner for trainer Denis Hogan in Ireland last year, and, from England, David O’Meara’s Ayr Gold Cup third, Gulliver (Jason Hart).
The only one of the Festival’s six main races to be staged on Friday (February 21st) is the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Cup, a US$250,000 (£187,970) one mile (1600m) event for thoroughbreds. France supplies one third of the 12-runner field including last year’s winner, Marianafoot (Boudot), who got his head in front for the first time since when landing a Listed race at Deauville in December.
A full list of runners and riders for Al Rayyan on Friday and Saturday can be accessed at: https://qrec.gov.qa/racing/race-calendar