Since the beginning of Arab civilization, horses have played
an invaluable role in the wars and conquests that have
shaped the Middle East. In the process, the quest to obtain
the fastest horse for battle and communication led to the
formalization of horse races. This tradition continues to
the present, although more for pride than anything.
In Qatar, horse racing is serious business. The
Qatar Racing & Equestrian Club (REC), which was established in
1975, holds races most Wednesdays and Thursdays from October
to May on either its sand or turf tracks. Although the club
holds thoroughbred, maiden, and handicap races, the real
attraction is its purebred Arabian races, since the breed is
native to the Arabian Peninsula.
The REC is also heavily invested in the international horse
racing community and is currently the official sponsor of
the Qatar Prix de L'Arc de
Triomphe, which is held in October, and is the most
prestigious horse race in Europe. Since 1920, the race has
been held at Longchamp Racecourse in Paris, and annually
attracts over 70,000 spectators and close to 1 billion
Although not Longchamp, the REC facilities are impressive.
The living conditions of the horses at the REC made me
question my own quality of life in Canada. Aside from its
racing tracks, the REC boasts a horse rehab centre, numerous
stables, several training facilities, a horse pool, and a
whole staff dedicated to ensuring the horses are fit to
race. I even noticed a horse ambulance parked adjacent to
one of the stables.
Our cameraman, Tim Ziegler, and my colleague, Elaine Ng, had
the opportunity to be up close and personal with one of the
REC residents. The horse was nicknamed Princess, cost US$3.6
million, and stood very tall, and very proud. (And she seemed to
understand English words like "beautiful horse," "gorgeous horse,"
"pretty horse," and so forth.) We were lucky to see
the horse, explained the trainer, since she normally spends
her time grazing in the green fields of Europe. What a life!
Just another day at the races ...