Gambling | The Smart Money

Sheikhs and stakes

Next weekend, the richest day in Britain’s racing history runs at Ascot – and it’s thanks to an enthusiastic young Qatari backer and his five brothers.

October 09 2011
Jamie Reid

The Emirate of Qatar may only be a tiny dot on the Arabian Peninsula but the Gulf state is fast becoming a major sponsor of high-profile sporting events. Its biggest venture yet is set to be the 2022 Football World Cup, which it was awarded in controversial circumstances last year. It remains to be seen how easy it will be to stage a football tournament in the Gulf in June and July when temperatures can reach 50°C, but what is not in dispute is that the British and French racing industries, formerly dependent on Dubai as their main overseas benefactor, have particular reason to be grateful for Qatari support. Last weekend, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe meeting was held in Paris, sponsored, for the fourth year running, by the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club, which has extended its backing up until 2022. Basking in a total prize fund of more than €6m, the French are used to lording it over their Anglo-Saxon rivals. But from this autumn they’ll have a counter-attraction on their hands – and that’s due to Qatari sponsorship too.

The inaugural Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot on October 15 (first mentioned here in July) features £3m of prize money and will be the single most valuable day’s racing ever staged in Britain. The new fixture has had to overcome the objections of a ragbag of traditionalists, Luddites and French racing officials, who apparently tried to strangle the concept at birth. Happily, the sport’s leading owners, breeders and trainers have all pledged their support, swayed, understandably, by the scale of the purses involved. Qipco is one of Qatar’s leading private investment companies with interests in property, construction, oil, natural gas and financial services. It’s run by six brothers who are all nephews of the Emir and one of them, 23-year-old Sheikh Fahad bin Abdullah al-Thani, has developed an engaging passion for the Turf.

The England-educated Sheikh had never been racing in the UK before the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in 2010, but he was so captivated by the spectacle that he went on to buy the winner, Makfi, and stand him as a stallion under the banner of Pearl Bloodstock at Tweenhills Stud in Gloucestershire. He now has upwards of 40 horses in training and one of his most successful runners this season has been the two-year-old Frederick Engels, who triumphed at Royal Ascot in June. There was something slightly surreal about the sight of a colt named after the co-author of the Communist Manifesto sporting the colours of an Arab Sheikh and outclassing the opposition on the Royal Heath, but Sheikh Fahad had only bought him the day before and the quick return on his investment simply added to the impression that the young owner has the priceless attribute of luck.

For Champions Day to succeed it needs a performance worthy of the name and, for that, we need hopefully look no further than the magnificent bay colt Frankel. The Sir Henry Cecil-trained miler, who carries the famous pink and green silks of Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, annihilated a blue-blooded field by six lengths in the 2,000 Guineas in April and then followed up in style at Glorious Goodwood. There should be a full house to cheer him on in the Qipco Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and I hope to see him crown the occasion with a victory by at least five lengths at 13-8 with Fitzdares.