Nasser Sherida Al Kaabi, General Manager of the Qatar Equestrian and Racing Club (QREC), discusses the country’s rising presence and high-ranking partnerships in the world of horseracing.
How would you evaluate the importance of sports in Qatar’s agenda and what are the benefits of sports mega events in terms of nation building, trust building, and integration?
Qatar now is playing a major role in sports all over the world, and I think Qatar has a major point in using sports as a player to develop the country’s image. We are hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and every year we have international tennis and golf tournaments, and the motorcycle GP – all of which proclaim Qatar as a leader in the region. The equestrian field also plays a big role as now we are home to one of the most prestigious and most attractive racetracks in the Gulf. We target in the future to put Qatar on the map, hosting the most prestigious and exciting races in the world. Our interest in sponsoring a plethora of races abroad sends a message about our commitment to horseracing.
Horseracing for us is something we associate to our heritage this has been a historical event for more than 200 years; horses and racing are known to be every Qatari’s passion.
QREC supports and sponsors several Arabian races internationally, such as the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and is able to attract numerous high profile international partners, including Longines, ExxonMobil and Total, among others. What drives these companies to be associated with the club and become proud sponsors worldwide?
ExxonMobil, Shell and Longines are some of our proud sponsors; in fact, Longines is one of our major sponsors all around the world. So, being associated with them is beneficial for both of us. Secondly, Qatar is one of the major petroleum states, and oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil have a major role to play. I think it’s very important to have joint ventures, not only in the oil and gas industry but also in the sports arena. We are partners in a lot of events. I think being associated with Qatar is something every company wants because Qatar is showing its desire to grow and become one of the major powers in the region.
You just came back from Royal Ascot, what was the experience this year?
As you know, last year we had HE Sheikh Joaan as the leading owner-winner. I think Qatar is paying attention to be at the top level in all sports. Winning at Royal Ascot is an experience that cannot be matched by anything else. For us, as we see it, we are the newcomers in Britain and France, especially in horseracing. I think it sends a big message that we want to be there and we want to prove to the world that we can be the best.
What is your vision for horseracing in Qatar in the long term?
Our strategy and plan for our image now is to turn Qatar into a major horseracing global phenomenon. So, for example, right now the major race events in the world are the Kentucky Derby, the Dubai World Cup, and events in Australia, France, etc. We want to be there with them; they have been around for many years and they have the heritage and the historical experience.
But, we will do something astonishing, to show people that we can take the sport to the next level, attracting a lot of people from all around the world, especially through our race events. We are going to elevate our prize money to make it more attractive for enthusiasts, as well as upping the level of horses participating to be equal to or exceed those who participate in major events around the world. Being associated with the best jockeys like Frankie Dettori sends the message that we only look for the best. We have good horses; we have the best fields in the world, and we have the best jockey, who is Frankie Dettori.
Horseracing, as you know, has a need to win. For us, as Qataris, winning the first Arc was an unbeatable feeling. And winning it a second time was a dream come true. We are going for more now. We want to make history. It’s never been done before; we are tied with another horse, I think it was in 1978 or 79, but now we want to make history, to make Qatar one of the most successful nations in the history of horseracing.
What role do you see for yourself in the short-term?
First of all, it’s an honor to be here, especially when the government has put trust in me to lead this horseracing organization and put it in the 2030 image. Personally, my intention is to make Qatar one of the major players in horseracing in the world. I have been to all the races. I have experienced other cultures and learned other traditions during my life. I have a good background with all the other race organizations and I think I want to put everything I know about horseracing within the Qatari image, to make Qatar one of the world leaders in this field.
I think this can be done with ambition. It needs time, because we need to build our horseracing infrastructure, but eventually we will reach our goals and targets. And it needs goodwill and ambition.
I have the intention with all the help of our team and Qatari nationals and also the people that come from outside to help us; I think this will play a major role. We also have a lot of joint ventures, a lot of major horseracing. We have a partnership with the Jockey Club, and with the Racing Post, and they are experts in the field; I think that will put us on the right track.
When you travel abroad to these different races, do you feel that Qatar is being given the credit it deserves? Do you think there’s still work to be done in the international arena to put Qatar on the map?
There are still some little issues that have to be resolved to put us on the right track. Especially internationally, we have to raise the level of races held on the racetrack. But outside of Qatar, we have already put our trademark out there and we have a very good record in the racing field. I think a lot of Qataris now are involved in racing abroad and they want to prove to everybody that we can compete.
[When it comes to bidding on horses] it’s a matter of quality. Quality has a price, and I think when we enter the field we search for the best and for quality. I think that we have proved that we are good quality because many other racers have wanted to bid on the same horses that we have wanted. We are building sturdy foundations. I think in the beginning we have to invest and show our ability, and after that we hope we’ll gain through our results.
For us, horseracing is a sport in which we want results. We are not looking for investment as a return; we are looking for investment for results, such as making the owners happy with the results, and also attracting the big racing organizations to come and join us in our events.
That fits perfectly into something that His Excellency Salah bin Ghanem bin Nasser Al Ali was saying recently, about how sports have this beautiful ability to unite, not only regionally but internationally. How would you say that equestrianism is playing a part in this sportsmanship?
His Excellency Mr Salah Bin Ghanem Bin Nasser Al Ali, the Minister of Youth and Sports, is playing a major role uniting the sports sector and putting Qatar’s vision from the governmental perspectives into the right direction to meet the goals and objectives of Qatar 2030. Sport does unite heads of state, not only big owners. So I think being in horseracing or any other sport is somewhere everybody wants to be.
Sheikh Joaan has always been a very well recognized figure in recent years in the UK. Do you think that his recent posting as president of head of the Olympic committee shows how important equestrianism is to the government’s sporting agenda?
Of course. His Excellency Sheikh Joaan plays a major role in sports. Since 2006 when he was involved in the Asian games, he has played a major role in equestrianism and horseracing. He was a major influence and pushed us to succeed, and I think Sheikh Joaan proved to be a force behind all kinds of sport, especially in horseracing, where he has won most of the major races in England and France. He is very ambitious, with his eyes on different races like the Kentucky Derby. His Excellency also has a strong relationship with America to reach that target. I think with ambition and the help of the successful team we could reach more goals, locally and internationally.
Regarding the £2 million sponsorship deal with Goodwood, what does the birth of Qatar Goodwood really represent in terms of Qatar’s commitment to furthering its potential and the potential of the British horseracing economy?
As you know, Goodwood is very big in the UK, and has its own good reputation. Being associated with them gave Qatar a major role in British racing, and being somewhere like Goodwood is something to look forward to as we invest in luxurious races, and of course Goodwood one of the top racecourses in the UK.
QIPCO recently became the first commercial partner approved by the Queen for Royal Ascot and has boosted the British Champions Series and British Champions Day, making it the richest fixture in British racing history. To what extent will this support boost Qatari and British bilateral relations?
QIPCO is with a private company, because the owners are Qataris and they represent Qatar’s private sector and appreciation of sport. We are sponsoring in France and we have a long-term contract with them and everything makes it more attractive for us to be there. We also have a lot of Arabian deals with them, for Arabian racehorses.
As I said before, I think that the UK and Qatar have a very strong relationship in all kinds of terms, and being associated with horseracing with Great Britain, being partners and helping to lift up the quality of the racehorses, is something we look forward to and have intended for a long time. So, everybody can benefit out of this, both the British racehorse community and also the Qataris, as for us it has a lot of benefits. First of all we make sure that Qatar has a very strong relationship with the UK, and secondly it tells the horseracing world that we are lifting the quality of races in UK. Everybody is benefiting out of this, owners, trainers, and racehorses. The quality of horses is going to be much better with American horses also.
What is the strategy to increase coverage of racing outside of the specialized racing media, which should provide the sponsors with greater value?
At this time, we have associated ourselves with the Racing Post to develop a new magazine for Qatar, and we have just recently signed a contract with them. They will be covering horseracing news around the world and also sending the message of Qatari horses, both here in Qatar and abroad. It’s going to be distributed across the UK, and in hotels and airports, so the British public can know that Qatar is involved not only in sponsorship but also in media. Exposure is very important to us.
How has the stud’s association with Qatar Bloodstock and Pearl Bloodstock taken operations to the next level with regard to breeding and provided a new string to Qatar’s bow?
The breeding operation for us is very important, and we have invested in breeding especially in both thoroughbreds and Arabian horses from different owners and farms to restructure the face of the new generation. I think it will eventually give a good crop that could be competitive for the future. In breeding there’s a risk, and you never know who’s good in quality, but you try your best to achieve the best horses. Historically we have had horses from America, Britain and France, and there are a lot of famous names in the famous races. I think it’s just a matter of God’s blessing to us, but we have a good generation that will be competitive with others; but also competition is there with other organizations, and we respect everybody.
Qatar, because of its love of Arabian horses, always tries to take the Arabian horse to the next level in terms horseracing. How would you evaluate this process and how do you see the Arabian racehorse developing in the coming years?
This is a good question because you will find the answer at the next race that is coming up at Goodwood, which is an Arabian race. It’s part of a triple crown Arabian we’re developing. As you know, Arabian horses have advanced a lot in recent years both in quality and speed, and our investment and dedication to Arabians is very important to us because of our heritage and our love for Arabians. We started with Arabians, and we’ll continue with them. Arabians have more stamina than thoroughbreds and they are more elegant, but at the end of the day, for us Arabian horses are there and always will be there for us. It’s important to advertise the importance of Arabians to us, and sponsoring a lot of races, which will help breeders to invest more in the breed.