Perhaps it’s no surprise that Al Mourtajez was a somewhat cantankerous three-year-old, before his career began. What he has done on racecourses in Qatar and Europe in the last few years has shown how tough he is.
In January, Al Mourtajez became the first horse to be honored as the top-rated runner in consecutive seasons in year-end rankings reflecting most of the 2016 season. To clinch his status, Al Mourtajez won the Qatar Arabian World Cup at Chantilly for the second consecutive year in October.
A third attempt at the Qatar Arabian World Cup is planned this year, which will be the last for Al Mourtajez before he is sent to stud. A colt who was tough to handle early in his career has settled into a brilliant racehorse.
In this wide-ranging interview, Thomas Fourcy discusses Al Mourtajez’s racing career, and the goals for 2017.
Al Mourtajez is something of an ambassador for Arabian racing. Do you think he has helped raise the profile of Arabian racing in Europe? He has been so consistent and is often the pick of the fans.
Yes, I sincerely think that Al Mourtajez is a reference in the Arabian racing world. He was so consistent since day one, in his performance as well as the way he gallops. He has “everything” which makes him a very good horse: class, spirit, physique, and a warrior temperament. Everyone in the Arabian world enjoys seeing such a horse on the racetracks.
How was the horse acquired by Al Shaqab Racing?
Everything started when His Excellency Sheikh Joaan purchased Al Nachmiya at the Saint Cloud Arqana Sale in October 2011, the day before the Gr.1 Arabian race for three-year-old fillies. She won in pure class and His Excellency was so happy that he decided to visit the farm where she was bred, at Hassan Mousli’s stud. His Excellency went in the Charente-Maritime region and saw a group of yearlings, including Al Mourtajez. H.E. Sheikh Joann was seduced by some of the yearlings and decided to invest in Mr. Mousli’s homebred yearling crop. This is how he became the new owner of this fantastic colt.
Is there anything about his pedigree that made him appealing at the start?
Al Mourtajez has a very good pedigree, everything to make him a good horse. His dam was consistent in her production, and gave birth to valuable horses. His sire made a change in bloodlines; a successful match!
What has Al Mourtajez been doing in December and January after his 2016 season?
Over the 2016-2017 off season, Al Mourtajez stayed in our yard. We had a special mental program for him. On Royan La Palmyre track, we have training gallops but also tracks and paths in the woods.
He’s a seven-year-old in 2017. Will he have a similar campaign from past seasons, and, if so, what will be the first goals in Europe?
His 2017 season program is yet to be defined. It will depend on His Excellency’s choice, first of all, and the horse himself. We would love to see him race again this year of course, and try to aim for a third World Cup!
What factors contributed to his consistency in 2016, a season that saw him win four consecutive Group 1 races in England and France?
The colt reached maturity at the end of his five-year-old season I think. A lot of Arabian horses can be quite late types.
Was there a single race that stands out as a highlight, perhaps winning the Qatar Arabian World Cup at Chantilly?
The race I really cherish is his first success in the Qatar Arabian World Cup at Longchamp. Al Mourtajez was a tough horse to train at the beginning, very delicate with lots of strength, that even he could not manage! To win this race with such a horse was really joyful and a great achievement for the whole team!
Will 2017 be his last year on the track?
Yes, 2017 will surely be his last season on the track. A stallion career is logically planned for the colt. The Arabian breeding world is waiting for him and he should have a very nice book of mares. According to his inherent qualities, he should make a contribution to the Arabian breed.
Any conclusions about the loss in the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown in Abu Dhabi in November? Does that provide a concern of any sort?
His performance at Abu Dhabi was not, in my opinion, a race to remember for this horse. Racing rhythms over there are higher than in France, or even Europe. Al Mourtajez is a horse who likes to dominate the event with his classy pace and he got lost straight from the start. He was 200 percent ready for the Arabian World Cup at Chantilly and the close trip to Abu Dhabi may have been a bit too much. This performance does not take any of the colt qualities away of course, he is not a sprinter, that’s all!
He was very good as far back as his four-year-old season in 2014, his first full year on the track and the season he won stakes at Deauville and Toulouse. Has he changed in recent seasons?
No, nothing has changed, his physical maturity helped him settle his supremacy. I personally think that he was at his best as a five-year-old and even better at six.
Physically and mentally, what are his best attributes?
His best assets are his warrior mindset and his out of range strength. He does not need anyone during his races. He has such action that when the other horses do two strides he only has to make one over the same ground. He has a great shoulder and a powerful rear end. He is a non-standard horse and I am very proud of having been able to work next to such a horse, and as a trainer for Al Shaqab Racing.
On a day-to-day basis, what is he like to train, and “live with”?
He is a horse who was very difficult to handle early, as a three-year-old. As I said before, he could not handle his strength and was kind of worried about the surroundings (environment, rider, etc.). It took us a lot of time to gain his confidence and when he turned four he started to be more and more quiet, and he actually understood what we were expecting of him.
He is a colt but this has never affected his temperament and behavior with the other horses. Nothing bothers him. He is very sweet and appealing. He knows who is who, and my kids love petting him and giving him carrots! And I can assure you that Al Mourtajez loves it too! He is with us for more than four years now and he is part of the family, he is our sweetheart, our blue-eyed boy!
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Racing Crown Jewel
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown by Steve Andersen A career that began in Houston and flourished in Europe reached a new height in Arabian racing in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirate
2017 Arabian Racing Yearbook
Our 2017 Arabian Racing Yearbook can be enjoyed here: www.issuu.com/arabianhorseworld/ahw-arabian-racing-yearbook-2017 2017 Arabian Racing Y earbook Table of Contents Darley Preview
The Way We Were — The Year Was 1997
The other day we were looking for a particular photo of a particular horse here in Arabian Horse World’s offices. The search led to the 8 x 10 glossy archives … which got us thinking. We handle an average
Becker Stables and Kheanne
Cover Story: Becker Stables and Kheanne Thoughts on Brett Becker’s 2017 Scottsdale Champion Western Pleasure mare, by Gary Dearth
From the Artist – Peter Upton
We hope you enjoy these lovely paintings by Peter Upton, as published in his book, The Arab Horse, where ancestral Arabians come to life in his more than 60 full page oils and watercolors. It is a
Leading Riders and Handlers from 2016 U.S., Canadian, and Sport Horse Nationals Computer research by Douglas Tatelman Each year we identify the Totally Tops professional trainers and amateurs
A Million Dollar Weekend in Qatar
The rise of Ebraz (Amer x Massamari by Tidjani) over the winter in Qatar was nothing short of astonishing. He ran credibly in France in Group 1 stakes in 2016, finishing third and fourth. In Qatar,
Stud Farm Diaries – The Mysterious Case of the Heavy Rain and the Television Show
The Lake Isle of Innisfree I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made; Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee, And live
For the Horse – Bone Chips In Young Horses with Dr. Melissa King
These are unfortunately common scenarios for many farms. A promising yearling is sent out for halter training and conditioning. However, when it returns, it has an enlarged fetlock on the hind
Stud Book Research
Arabian Horse World's Stud Book Research. Purebread Arabian registrations during the calendar year 2015. Volume 87. https://issuu.com/arabianhorseworld/docs/03studbookresearchforissue