samedi 13 avril 2024
AccueilA la uneWATHNAN RACING: THE TRAPPINGS OF SOMETHING BIG

WATHNAN RACING: THE TRAPPINGS OF SOMETHING BIG

On the Thursday of the Royal Ascot meeting [June 21]  our colleagues at the TDN, using the mediums of e-mail and social media, broke the news that: «  The Emir of Qatar is the man behind Wathnan Racing. »   The news spread rapidly and was picked up by the International Thoroughbred, The Racing Post, Nick Luck Daily, Equos and even the general press (The Daily Telegraph and The Sun, for example). Since last autumn, the question had become an open secret and, in the absence of official confirmation, the racing press had respected the Wathnan Racing team’s desire for discretion. What has changed, therefore, is that Emma Berry (TDN) became the first journalist to officially confirm that Wathnan Racing is the racing wing of the Emir of Qatar. That is, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Twenty four hours later, the bloodstock agent Richard Brown (who acquired Courage Mon Ami) told Nick Luck: «Unfortunately, the Emir wasn’t able to be at Royal Ascot in person, but representatives of Wathnan Racing were there. I hope that we will see him at a British racecourse in future as that would be great. » The information had already been leaked here and there in the international racing press. The first – totally unintentional – leak dates back to 16 February, in an interview given to the racing news website Asian Racing Report.  During the course of it, jockey Alberto Sanna made it known: « To make it to the top in Qatar, you have to be a jockey who is riding for the Emir’s Wathnan stable. They have the best trainer, Alban de Mieulle, whose jockeys are Ronan Thomas and Soufiane Saadi. It’s like a Ferrari competing against a Toyota. » As the Asian Racing Report is mainly aimed at an Australian and Asian audience, the news went unnoticed by the European racing media.

From one monarch to another

In Britain, the presence of King Charles III and Queen Camilla at the Royal Ascot Meeting is seen as a very strong and essential endorsement regarding the future of racing. Wathnan Racing won two group races at Royal Ascot, the Gr1 Gold Cup with Courage Mon Ami (Frankel), and the Gr2 Queen’s Vase via Gregory (Cracksman). Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is a young man – he was born in 1980 – and is one of the most influential leaders in the Arab world. Certainly, relative to horse racing, it’s a tremendous plus to be able to count on his presence. Particularly with regard to the Western public authorities, as they are keen to maintain good relations with Qatar. We are all aware of the involvement of members of the Al Thani family in French racing (which take the form of numerous sponsorships, stud farms, horses in training, etc.), whereas one can detect the presence of Qatar Bloodstock, Al Shaqab Racing, Al Shahania Stud, Umm Qarn and so forth, on the wider European stage.

Qatar has invested heavily domestically as regards developing its local Racing Calendar, with the construction of a second racecourse, which has been accompanied by a marked hike in prize money levels. Wathnan Racing spent 1.75 million guineas at Tattersalls buying horses-in-training, plus €340,000 at the Arc Sale, and €1.34 million at Saint-Cloud’s PA Sale, with a view to making their mark in this highly competitive arena (excluding horses bought privately such as Courage Mon Ami). The purchases were overseen by Olly Tait (also employed as racing manager), Richard Brown and Alban de Mieulle. Wathnan Racing topped the Qatari owners’ list during the 2022-2023 season. It was in this same ownership, and under the stewardship of trainer Alban de Mieulle, that Abbes (TM Fred Texas) won the HH The Amir Sword (Gr1 PA), which is an elite PA race on the international calendar. »

The strategy

A few days later at Compiègne, Alban de Mieulle was in the company of two key members of the racing entity, Ali Al Rumaihi and Ali Al Kubaisi. He told us: « As long as Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani gives me his assent to train for Wathnan, I’ll do it. It’s thanks to him that I headed to Qatar. Sheikh Abdullah has cut back on the number of horses he has, and so it’s possible to look after the interests of both concerns. Wathnan is managed by Mr Al Hajri, who is the Emir’s brother-in-law. During the spring, Wathnan bought three English thoroughbreds, all 3-year-olds, and two at the Newmarket Breeze-Up, in England. Picked up for good prices, they’re good horses, but there are so many expensively bought purchases which don’t win good races… So well done to the bloodstock agent in question! In France, for the moment, there are only the horses there that I’ve brought back for the summer. The aim is clearly for quality to trump quantity. It will be easier to start a breeding operation that way. At present, nothing has yet been decided about the format of the breeding operation. It’s up to the Emir of Qatar to decide where he wants to launch his operation. Maybe it will be in two places. I think they’re going to go very far, because they’re giving themselves time to get the job done properly. »

Photo 2 – Alban de Mieulle, Ali Al Rumaihi et Ali Al Kubaisi CREDIT SCOOPDYGA

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