A Million Dollar Weekend in Qatar
by Steve Andersen
Photos by Juhaim
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, his status soared. A maiden as recently as November, Ebraz was the upset winner of the $1 million Emir’s Sword on February 25, the richest race for Arabians in Qatar.
Owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Thani of Al Shahania Stud and trained by Julian Smart, Ebraz beat a field that included older stalwarts such as Tayf, Al Mourtajez and Gazwan, who were second through fourth. “Ebraz is a super horse,” Smart said after the race. “He is very well-bred. To beat Gazwan, Al Mourtajez and Tayf at four years old is remarkable … he is a baby.”
Ebraz is a full brother to Mared Al Sahra, who won the 2008 Emir’s Sword, and the British Group 1 winner Mu’azzaz. With that pedigree, Ebraz has always been highly regarded.
In 2016, he started twice in France, finishing third in the Group 1 Prix Kesberoy at Deauville in August and fourth in the Group 1 Qatar Total Arabian Trophy Des Poulains at Saint-Cloud in Paris in September.
Switched to Qatar for the fall and winter seasons, Ebraz quickly rose in prominence. After beating maidens in November, he was second in the Qatar Derby in December and second in the Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani Silver Cup for four-year-olds in January, losing by a half-length to Yaseed.
Ebraz was one of two four-year-olds in the 15-runner field in the Emir’s Sword. Being a younger horse, Ebraz’s jockey — Alan Munro — carried 52 kilograms, or approximately 114 pounds, compared to 58 kilograms, or 127 pounds, for the older horses in the race at 2,400 meters on turf, or approximately 1 ½ miles.
The weight break played a significant role in the win, but Ebraz did pull clear to finish 3 ½ lengths in front of Tayf (Amer x Djelmila by Manganate). Tayf was second in the President of the United Arab Emirates Cup at Doncaster, England, last September, and a stakes winner in France last July.
Al Mourtajez (Dahess x Arwa by Nuits St. Georges) was the top-ranked Arabian in the world in 2015 and 2016. He won the Qatar Arabian World Cup at Chantilly, France, for the second consecutive year in October. Gazwan (Amer x Arc de Ciel by Djendel) won the 2016 Emir’s Sword for Smart.
The third-place finish by Al Mourtajez prevented owner Al Shabaq Racing of Qatar and trainer Thomas Fourcy from claiming a $1 million bonus for sweeping the Doha Triple Crown. The first two races in the series were the Qatar International Stakes at Goodwood Racecourse in England last July and the Qatar Arabian World Cup at Chantilly.
Ebraz started at 1 ½ miles for the first time in the Emir’s Sword, and thrived at the distance. Munro had his mount in sixth for the first half-mile, with Al Mourtajez third early behind his stablemate, Laft Nethar, who set the pace. With five furlongs to go, Al Mourtajez took the lead and momentarily looked as if he would steal the race.
With a quarter-mile remaining, Ebraz loomed on the outside of Al Mourtajez and took the lead with a furlong left, holding a clear lead with a sixteenth of a mile to go. Ebraz won comfortably, with Tayf second, only a head in front of Al Mourtajez, who was a head in front of Gazwan.
For Smart and Sheikh Mohammed’s Al Shahania Stud, the three days of racing involving the Emir’s Sword had been a struggle, without the expected results.
“This had been an absolutely horrible weekend so far,” Smart said “It gets emotional because the pressure is just immense. Everyone is saying (Al) Shahania is having a bad year. We are because we don’t have the numbers. I am also a little low on quality this year, but every big racing operation goes through that. For us, it is now.”
Smart acknowledged that the weight break helped Ebraz, but still praised the comprehensive style of the win. “The way he went, he might have won with level weight anyway,” he said.
The long-range plans for Ebraz include the Doha Triple Crown, with expected starts at Goodwood and Chantilly in the summer and fall. The Emir’s Gold Sword in Qatar in early April could be a goal before Smart’s operation shifts to Europe for the summer and fall. TM Thunder Struck races for Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani and trainer Alban de Mieulle. Last April, TM Thunder Struck won the Gold Sword, but he struggled through the European portion of the season, finishing fourth behind Al Mourtajez in the Qatar International at Goodwood and third behind the same runner in the Prix Dragon at Chantilly in early September.
Earlier on the same program, the Texas-bred TM Thunder Struck (Majd Al Arab x Bonnett by Burning Sand) won the $250,000 Qatar International Cup at 1,600 meters, or about a mile, on turf.
TM Thunder Struck’s form did not brighten until the start of the new year. After losing his first two starts of the winter season in Qatar in November and December, TM Thunder Struck won the Group 3 Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani Cup on January 12, a different race than the one involving Ebraz on the same day.
In the Qatar International Cup against 11 rivals, TM Thunder Struck prevailed by a short head over Zikreet (Dahess x Dormadora by Dormane). Olivier Peslier rode TM Thunder Struck and timed the ride perfectly. Peslier had TM Thunder Struck in third for the first six furlongs before challenging for the lead turning into the stretch. TM Thunder Struck took the lead with less than 150 yards to go and was fully extended to hold off Zikreet.
Zikreet, who is owned by Al Shaqab Racing and trained by Fourcy, was the joint second-highest rated three-year-old in Europe last year.
Steve Andersen is a correspondent for Daily Racing Form.