Qatar: French King, successful in three of his four starts since winning in Doha 12 months ago, heads a classy contingent of 23 international horses taking part in the six-race $2.95 million HH The Amir Sword Festival at Al Rayyan Racecourse in Qatar on Friday and Saturday.
The fixture has also attracted some of the world’s top riders. Oisin Murphy, the reigning British champion, will be aboard one of French King’s biggest rivals, the US-trained Standard Deviation, for Saturday’s thoroughbred highlight, the $1m HH The Amir Trophy (Presented by Longines).
Other luminaries of the saddle in action at the meeting include no fewer than five past and present French champions – Maxime Guyon, Christophe Soumillon, Pierre-Charles Boudot, Stephane Pasquier and Olivier Peslier – plus a pair of German champions in Adrie de Vries and Eddie Pedroza.
A G1 winner in Berlin last August, French King is trained in France by Alex Pantall. He won last year’s HH The Amir Trophy by a length and a quarter from his fellow countryman Royal Julius with Hunting Horn, representing Ireland, and The Blue Eye, representing Qatar, filling the next two places.
All of the first four home are back for another crack at this 1m4f contest. Peslier will again ride French King while Pasquier maintains a partnership with Royal Julius that three months ago brought victory in the Bahrain International Trophy, just 65 miles from Doha in Bahrain.
Successful in G2 company in Australia in October but subsequently sold to join the Qatari handler Ahmed Kobeissi, Hunting Horn will this time be ridden by Ryan Curatolo, while Theo Bachelot gets the leg-up aboard Gassim Ghazali’s The Blue Eye, winner of this race in both 2018 and 2016.
Qatar Derby victor Pedro Caro also lines up for France, while Standard Deviation is a recent recruit to the barn of Kentucky Derby-winning trainer, Graham Motion.
The $250,000 Al Biddah Mile sees a rematch of December’s Al Rayyan Stakes when Maystar (Archie Watson/Hollie Doyle) overcame Think Big and Happy Bere.
Reigning champion Anima Rock (Gassim Ghazali/Theo Bachelot) heads a field of 11 for the $250,000 Dukhan Sprint, which also features Make A Challenge (Denis Hogan/Joe Doyle), six times a winner in Ireland last year.