Qatar spurs glorious future for Goodwood

As quintessentially an English sporting event as tennis at Wimbledon or cricket at Lords, the Glorious Goodwood horse racing festival starts tomorrow with a distinctly Middle East flavour.

The course’s lush setting on the Sussex Downs of southern England has known the thunder of hooves for more than 200 years.

But with the 2015 meeting offering Arabian pure-bred runners from several countries, including the UAE and Qatar, and prize money more than doubled by sponsorship from Qatar, a big occasion in the sport of kings has suddenly grown bigger.

As a result of the investment by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund – the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) – total prize money has soared from £2 million (Dh11.4m) to £4.5m. One race alone, the Group 1 Qatar Sussex Stakes, will be run for £1m, £700,000 more than last year, and Goodwood says this makes it one of the most significant mile runs in the world.

Now known as the Qatar Goodwood Festival – although the traditional “Glorious Goodwood” title lives on in the organisers’ publicity – the event runs for five days at what the organisers call “the most beautiful racecourse in the world”.

“It has always been a huge part of the English racing and social calendar,” says Adam Waterworth who, as Goodwood’s sport managing director, has been the key figure in negotiating Qatar’s investment.

“This year, with the added prize money, it is also generating enormous interest internationally.”

He says the partnership reflects the rapid growth of Qatari interest in thoroughbred racing, a relatively recent development in the state and driven in no small part by the enthusiasm of the ruling Al Thani family.

Their sporting passions are already evident from ownership via the QIA’s sporting division, Sports Investments (QSI), of France’s top football club, Paris Saint-Germain, and sponsorship of the kit of La Liga and Champions League winners Barcelona. QSI also owns the Burrda sportswear manufacturers.

For Arabian Gulf racing enthusiasts, a clear highlight of Goodwood will be the Qatar Harwood International, a £400,000 race for Arabian pure-breds on a final day otherwise dominated by the Qatar Nassau Stakes and the Qatar Stewards’ Cup.

It will form part of a new Qatar Arabian Triple Crown, along with existing races – the World Cup at Longchamps, part of the Arc de Triomphe event on the banks of the Seine in Paris in October, and the Emir’s Sword in Doha in February. A US$1 million bonus awaits a horse winning all three.

Listed UAE entries include the four-year-old filly Aurora Forta out of Abu Dhabi’s Forta Stud, while the UAE-bred, Omani-owned Karar, the son of Invincible Spirit and the winner of the Shaikha Fatima bint Mubarak Apprentice World Championship series race at the British Newbury course a year ago, also features.

In Wednesday’s Sussex Stakes, Toomore, now owned by the Godolphin stables of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, is tipped to be a runner.

But the RacingBetter website predicts a “mouth-watering clash of the generations” pitching two great European milers, the Irish-owned Gleneagles and the French-owned Solow, who was the winner on the Dubai Turf race at Meydan in March. Godolphin was unwilling to name runners at Goodwood ahead of the meeting beyond confirming it would have a ”strong presence”.

The Goodwood chairman Lord March says the course’s reputation for heritage and innovation made the new race “a fantastic thing for racing”.

“I am looking forward to great Arabian horses thrilling the crowds.”

The 10-year sponsorship deal between Goodwood and the QIA, first announced in December, represents a fruitful union of Gulf investment clout and British aristocracy.

The track, lying 8km north of the town of Chichester and about 15km from England’s south coast, is owned by nobility, in the form of the family of the present Duke of Richmond.