By Jon Lees
Libya: Two and half years after its last race meeting, Libya will host horse racing again with the staging of the Al Jaied Cup Carnival on Saturday.
The country’s leading owners and trainers will gather in the city of Misurata, 200km from the capital Tripoli, for the richest meeting ever staged in Libya.
The card will include three races for local thoroughbreds, three for Arab horses and one for imported thoroughbreds, worth a total of one million dinars (£160,000); the feature is named the Good Cup.
It will be the first fixture since December 2018, when Libya’s second-most popular sport was halted by the combination of conflict and COVID.
“It’s not been easy but we have worked hard to put on this meeting to give hope to all breeders and owners to continue in this industry,” said Dr Amad Ashaab, the chairman of the Libyan Horseracing Authority.
“We have scheduled three big meetings, this one [May 15], another on October 2 and one at the end of the year on December 23.”
Crowds of up to 4,000 are expected with many VIPs, including the prime minister plus foreign diplomats, attending. The stewards will be from Tunisia with the well known Omani broadcaster Abdallah Almamari providing the commentary.
“It’s been a long time with no racing so a lot of people will want to come along,” said Alshaab. “This is the second sport in Libya after football. It is very popular here.”
Libya has been gripped by almost continuous conflict since former leader Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in 2011. Last year forces loyal to the eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar overran the Al Shaab stud, Libya’s largest stud, kidnapping stallions and mares and brutally killing foals.
With Haftar’s forces now driven back, an interim unity government has been formed ahead of elections at the end of the year.
Ashaab, who also runs the stud, said: “This industry needs help – that is why I am back with the authority to help put on big race meetings. We have had a lot of support from the sponsors Al Jaied and our next job is to get other companies to do the same.”
He went on: “At the stud we still have a lot of horses missing, which we are sad about. Eavesdropper [a Kingmambo half-brother to A.P. Indy and Summer Squall], Australian-bred Churchill Downs and Backdraft and another 13 mares are still missing.”
The 25-year-old Raise A Grand, who won the G2 Solario Stakes at Sandown in 1998, was among the horses who returned alive. “He is back with us and has recovered well but he is retired,” said Ashaab. “He has helped to support the local breed a lot so we are happy he is still alive.”