Margaret tells us about her recent trip to Qatar, a country which is fast becoming synonymous with top class flat racing.
Qatar is fast becoming synonymous with top class flat racing. Through its involvement in bloodstock purchases, thoroughbred racing and sponsorship support of classic and pattern races in Europe, Qataris are becoming well known for their great interest and enjoyment of horse racing.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Qatar, spending most of my time in Doha and the surrounding area, visiting stud farms and equestrian facilities. The city itself is an amazing, modern urban space, with a diverse population and all the conveniences you would expect of a city, with one of highest average incomes per capita in the world. The countryside is a flat desert landscape transected by large highways. Wire barriers run parallel to the roads to keep the odd stray camels from meeting with the heavy traffic. The sandy plains are occasionally interrupted by irrigated areas of cultivation, which are all the more remarkable for their rarity.
The equestrian jewel in the crown is certainly Al Shaqab, a truly 21st century equestrian facility for Arabian horse breeding, rearing and training. It is run by the Qatar Foundation in Doha. As a racing fan however, I most enjoyed my visit to the evening races on Thursday at the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club. The onset of the weekend meant traffic was particularly heavy, leading to delays en route. Although in a suburban location, the racetrack and its grounds are spacious and peaceful. In spite of it now being autumn, the most comfortable place to watch the racing was from the air conditioned viewing balcony. The horses are all trained at the track, so their arrival to the parade ring was prompt though unhurried. The racing was a mixture of flat maidens and handicaps for both
Although some fields were relatively small with Thoroughbreds and Arabian horses, there was plenty of excitement, particularly in the maiden races. The hospitality at the track was excellent, with entry, race card and refreshments all complimentary. Only the call from my taxi to the airport, prompted my early departure, from this relaxed and interesting racing occasion.