Qatar: Jason Watson is chasing the winner’s share of a $1 million prize fund when he partners St Leger runner-up Berkshire Rocco in Qatar this weekend – when his chief rival looks set to be Aspetar, aboard whom the jockey enjoyed one of his three career G1 victories.
Won for the past two years by Henri Pantall-trained French King, the HH The Amir Trophy is the thoroughbred highlight of the three-day HH The Amir Sword festival at Al Rayyan racecourse in Doha from Thursday to Saturday [Feb 18-20] – when the climax takes place the same day as the Saudi Cup card in Riyadh.
Also second in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot, Andrew Balding-trained Berkshire Rocco leads a diminished European presence at the $4.34m festival as he bids to thwart a strong-looking home team.
They include former Roger Charlton-trained Aspetar, ridden by former champion apprentice Watson to win the G1 Preis von Europa in Cologne in September 2019. The six-year-old won the G2 Sky Bet York Stakes on his most recent start in Britain, after which he was unplaced in the Cox Plate before joining top Qatari-based trainer Julian Smart.
Aspetar will be ridden by Maxime Guyon in the Longines-sponsored 1m4f event; other leading names among the domestic contingent are ex-French Qatar Derby winner Hellenistique (Ronan Thomas) and veteran Noor Al Hawa (Alberto Sanna), second twice in the past.
International numbers are down this year owing to Covid-19 quarantine regulations, leaving Saturday’s top three-year-old event, the$250,000 Al Biddah Mile, as an all-domestic 12-runner affair.
However, there is French involvement in the $250,000 Dukhan Sprint in the shape of Corine Barande-Barbe’s Air De Valse (Ronan Thomas), a G3 winner at ParisLongchamp in September.
Ireland’s Bowerman (Ado McGuinness/Ronan Whelan), a G3 winner at Dundalk on his most recent outing, takes his chance against 13 locals in Friday’s $200,000 Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Cup.
Two of the best purebred Arabians in the world go head-to-head as Ebraz takes on Tayf in the $1m HH The Amir Sword on Saturday’s card.
• Visit the QREC (Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club) website