Four defending champions feature among a 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 21, and Saturday, February 22. The overseas contingent hails from nine different countries on four different continents.
The festival’s two biggest highlights are a pair of $1 million races, the HH The Amir Trophy (presented by Longines), a mile-and-a-half (2400m) contest for Thoroughbreds, and the 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 G2 events in Cologne and Hamburg followed by a G1 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 G1 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 the Amir Sword as one of his five G1 triumphs – and he also finished second in its 2018 renewal. This time around the 7-year-old has eight visitors from Oman among his 46 potential opponents, while Khataab, already successful twice at the top level and three times in G2 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 $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 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 $250,000 Al Biddah Mile is likely to see a rematch from 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 3-year-old field will have to cover the full mile (1600m).
A total of 58 purebred Arabians have been engaged in the last of the Saturday’s five showpiece events, the $250,000 Qatar International Cup. Leading contenders for this 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 G2 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 . Trained in France by Jerome Reynier, Marianafoot could return to defend his crown in this $250,000 one-mile affair.
The Qatar Racing & Equestrian Club CEO, Nasser bin Sherida Al Kaabi, said, “The huge number of entries is a demonstration of the progress of Qatar’s horseracing.
“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.”