For equine aficionados, Qatar Foundation’s equestrian center Al Shaqab is a reference not just in Qatar but around the globe. It has made a name for itself in Europe, such as in France, where breeding activities have produced scores of winning Thoroughbred and Arabian horses.
Tucked away in a sleepy town in France’s Normandy region are lush paddocks, where Thoroughbred horses munch on grass, concentrate feed and hay, each one receiving a diet adapted to its needs and breed.
While the peaceful pastures at Haras de Bouquetot seem light years away from the hustle and bustle of Doha, the French horse breeding company plays an integral role in Qatar’s equestrian traditions.
It’s here at Haras de Bouquetot where Al Shaqab Racing has been breeding Thoroughbreds since 2012 and standing stallions since 2014. There are currently eight stallions standing at Haras de Bouquetot, with four additional stallions at other farms across France.
Al Shaqab also has Thoroughbreds standing in Ireland, Germany and the US, and broodmares in Australia and the US. Arabian horses – which have played a vital role in Qatar’s heritage – are currently based in Qatar and France, for training purposes, while breeding operations are split between Qatar and four farms in the West and Southwest of France.
“In all, Al Shaqab Racing breeds around 80 Thoroughbred broodmares and 50 Arabian broodmares,” says Khalifa Al Attiya, Al Shaqab’s General Manager.
When you have a colt that wins any of these Group 1 races, you have a chance to stand a top stallion
For any breeder as well as for Al Shaqab, the goal is to produce Black Type horses – those that have won a Group or Listed race – and racing champions in various groups, from Group 1 to Classic. The ultimate challenge is to produce horses ready to compete in, and win, the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Held on the first weekend in October in Longchamp, the race is France’s most prestigious for Thoroughbreds aged three years and older.
“When you have a colt that wins any of these Group 1 races, you have a chance to stand a top stallion, which is one of the main activities at Haras de Bouquetot,” says Benoit Jeffroy, Stud Manager and Bloodstock advisor at Haras de Bouquetot.
For Al Shaqab Racing, its pride lies with Treve, who has won two consecutive Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe titles, in 2013 and 2014. The French Thoroughbred helped put Al Shaqab on the map in Europe, and Al Shaqab Racing has since produced numerous Group 1 winners, such as Qemah, Olympic Glory, Shalaa and Toronado.
More recently, Thoroughbreds Katara and Chorba took home titles at the Kempton and Compiegne races, respectively, in July, and are fueling hopes that they could be good enough for Black type races in the future.
And Al Shaqab’s Wooded appears to be the most promising male so far this year, recently winning the Prix Texanita Group 3 in Chantilly, France in May.
With so many horses we deal with everyday, we are very accustomed to following strict sanitary rules in order to keep them safe
As has been the case in most industries, horse racing has also been hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Several races were cancelled during lockdown periods in France and across Europe, and are only now starting to resume according to a new schedule. Thus far, it’s not clear how the pandemic will affect buying.
“We don't know yet because the major sales happen from September until the end of the year,” says Mr Al Attiya.
For breeders, the pandemic initially created the need for reassessment in order to keep breeders and horses safe. But after closing the farm to the public for two weeks early on in France’s lockdown, Haras de Bouquetot quickly realized that their regular activity meant that they were already prepared to handle the new safety procedures.
“Regarding the breeding stock, mares and foals, all staff was able to remain at work during the lockdown. Our activity remained at the same level, simply with safety measures added,” says Mr Jeffroy. “With so many horses we deal with everyday, we are very accustomed to following strict sanitary rules in order to keep them safe, so our staff was already well trained and aware of sanitary procedures to follow.”
As the horse racing industry adjusts to new protocol in line with the pandemic, jockeys continue their training, and breeders like those at Haras de Bouquetot continue preparing horses for future competitions using a personalized touch. Maintaining the highest standards in horse welfare and breeding, part of Al Shaqab’s overall mission, is ultimately what its French arm intends to do.
And, of course, producing winning horses – from Group 1 to Royal Ascot Group 1 and Classic winners – is never far from the company’s mind.
“If a filly wins any of these races, you enhance your breeding stock and its quality and value is hugely increased,” says Mr Jeffroy. “As with top class broodmares, you have more chances to producing these black type horses. So, it's a virtuous circle.”