Bahrain eyes golden racing future in wake of 'Royal' winner

London (AFP) –


English racegoers have become used to the silks of Dubai's Godolphin, Qatar Racing and Saudi Arabia's Prince Khalid Abdullah taking the big prizes but Golden Horde's win at Royal Ascot allowed Bahrain to bask in the racing limelight.

The Almohamediya Racing-owned sprinter won the Group One Commonwealth Cup and will bid to give trainer Clive Cox a third July Cup at Newmarket on Saturday.

The significance of his win at Ascot, though, in raising the profile of racing in the kingdom was immense.

"It was a great day for everyone involved in the sport in Bahrain, I was absolutely thrilled with his success in such a great race," Sheikh Salman bin Rashed Al-Khalifa, Executive Director of Rashid Equestrian & Horseracing Club, told AFP by phone from Bahrain.

"It was all over the local news, local papers and on social media for a good 48 hours sharing photos etc, and obviously I am very happy with that."

The if only's of sport are legion and Bahrain are no strangers to that in the Sport of Kings specifically having missed out on landing the blue riband of the turf the Epsom Derby.

For Camelot, the last horse to achieve the English 2000 Guineas and Derby double in 2012, was bred by Sheikh Abdulla bin Isa Al-Khalifa.

However, he decided to sell him as a yearling and off he went for 525,000 Guineas (£551,000, $697,000) to Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien.

"Such success sparked a big jump in the number of Bahraini owners which really started four years ago," said Sheikh Salman, who has a small Bahrain-based breeding operation of his own.

"Their getting involved on an international stage helps enormously to boost the profile of racing in Bahrain.

"If you go back a few years we did not have this presence but now really big names are involved in major meetings all over the world from England to the USA and Australia.

"Wherever you are in this global industry you will see Bahrain-owned horses."

- 'Part of the Bahraini culture' -

They have also followed their Qatari and Dubai rivals in raising their profile further by sponsoring races in England.

It is on a more modest scale compared to QIPCO's Champions Series.

However, they sponsor two races at Newmarket's prestigious July meeting this week including the Sir Henry Cecil Stakes named in honour of the late training legend.

"It is wonderful to be associated with a racing icon like Henry Cecil," said Sheikh Salman.

Thursday's winner Al Suhail booked an invitation to the second running of the Bahrain International Trophy on November 20.

The winner of the Bahrain race will pick up £250,000, a not insignificant payday, though, a long way off the prizemoney offered for the Dubai World Cup or the Saudi Cup.

However, the hosting of the 2000 metres contest (1 1/4 miles) limited to 14 runners comes with the organisers hoping such soft diplomacy will have wider positive spin-offs.

"Horses are part of the Bahraini culture and horse racing is a very popular sport here," said Sheikh Salman.

"We have one of the oldest racecourses in the region dating back to 1980.

"Hosting international races there are a lot of advantages not just about racing but also tourism.

"You can promote your country although the main objective is increasing the calibre of horse."

Sheikh Salman is hopeful the increased prizemoney compared to last year -- the well-travelled French horse Royal Julius won -- will attract a better class of runner.

"We are very happy where our race falls in the calendar in November which is close to the end of the European season," he said.

"The trainers thought it was a good time and gave them enough time to prep horses for the race.

"We hope to attract higher rated horses which will add to our profile.

"The calibre of horses coming to the race is what counts."