The Washington Post Sunday

Qatar plays the ponies — in a big way

Suc­cess with thor­ough­breds is re­flec­tive of king­dom’s rise in wealth and stature

- BY STEPHANIE BAKER AND DANIELLE ROSS­INGH Royals · Celebrities · Qatar · England · Dubai · Elizabeth II · Elizabeth I of England · London · Hyde Park · Hong Kong · United Kingdom · Oxford · New Zealand · European University · Special Forces · France · Netherlands · Tattersalls · Newmarket · TAG Heuer · Hamad bin Khalifa · Harrods · Mohamed Al-Fayed · Hyde · Oxford · Hulst · Deauville · Nederweert

Cradling his ipad, Sheik Fa­had bin Ab­dul­lah al-thani, a mem­ber of Qatar’s royal fam­ily, casts his gaze on a bay colt.

The horse is com­ing up for bid­ding on a sunny Oc­to­ber af­ter­noon at Tat­ter­salls auc­tion house dur­ing Europe’s big­gest year­ling sale in New­mar­ket, Eng­land. Thani pushes his TAG Heuer sun­glasses back on his head and flips through his ipad for de­tails on the colt’s blood­line.

Not long ago, a 22-year-old sheik in jeans and sneak­ers would have been the ul­ti­mate out­sider at “Old Tatt,” a tra­di­tion- drenched in­sti­tu­tion dat­ing from the mid-18th cen­tury.

Here, bid­ders are usu­ally Bri­tish, and the horses are still priced in guineas, an an­tique mone­tary unit that’s now equal to 1 pound 5 pence ($1.64).

Even though he started buy­ing thor­ough­breds less than 20 months ago af­ter at­tend­ing his first race, Thani knows what’s he’s look­ing for. “The tem­per­a­ment is im­por­tant,” he says. “It’s mostly the pedi­gree and how the horse looks.”

As a new­comer to the world of thor­ough­bred horse rac­ing, Thani was up against some of the big­gest names in the sport, in­clud­ing Sheik Mo­hammed bin Rashid al-mak­toum, the ruler of Dubai; John Mag­nier, the Ir­ish owner of the big­gest breeder of thor­ough­bred horses in the world, Cool­more Stud; and John War­ren, Queen El­iz­a­beth II’S blood­stock and rac­ing ad­viser.

Given the money spent at Tat­ter­salls and other auc­tions in 2011, the su­per­rich who dom­i­nate the global mar­ket for thor­ough­breds seem im­mune to shaky mar­kets and the Euro­pean debt cri­sis.

Thani peers at lot 49’s de­tails on his screen: The colt’s a big draw at to­day’s sale; his fa­ther is In­vin­ci­ble Spirit, cham­pion of seven races, sire to more 2-yearold win­ners than any other stal­lion in 2010.

Thani is de­ter­mined not to go wild and bows out of the bid­ding. War­ren snaps up the bay colt for 150,000 guineas.

With a rel­a­tively tiny bud­get and a new­comer’s luck, Thani, nephew of Qatari Emir Sheik Ha­mad bin Khal­ifa al-thani, is mak­ing waves on the global horse-rac­ing cir­cuit — and not be­cause he’s throw­ing around cash.

At Tat­ter­salls, he spent 215,000 guineas on three un­trained year­lings. That was a frac­tion of the 6 mil­lion guineas shelled out by Mak­toum, the owner of the world’s rich­est sta­ble of thor­ough­breds.

Yet in less than two years, the young Qatari has pulled off a feat that Mak­toum, 62, has not achieved in two decades of in­vest­ing in flat rac­ing.

On Thani’s first try, his stal­lion Du­naden won the pres­ti­gious Mel­bourne Cup in a dra­matic photo fin­ish: It took the judges 21⁄ min­utes to de­clare the vic­tor.

“Those 21⁄ min­utes felt like three years,” Thani says.

The prize at the world’s rich­est turf race was worth it: $3.6 mil­lion. Not a bad re­turn con­sid­er­ing he scooped up Du­naden for $156,300 in 2010. on Lon­don. In 2010, the in­vest­ment arm of Qatar’s sov­er­eign-wealth fund bought iconic Lon­don depart­ment store Har­rods from Mo­hamed al-fayed for an undis­closed sum. In 2007, the Qatari roy­als shelled out 34.7 mil­lion pounds for 100 Park Lane, a 17-bed­room man­sion over­look­ing Hyde Park. Thani says his mother owns it.

To­day, more than three decades af­ter he got into horse rac­ing, Mak­toum’s op­er­a­tion is mas­sive. Godol­phin, the Mak­toum fam­ily’s pri­vate horse-rac­ing sta­ble, which takes its name from Godol­phin Ara­bian, a stal­lion im­ported to Eng­land 300 years ago, raced 382 horses dur­ing the first 11 months of 2011, earn­ing Godol­phin $19 mil­lion in prize money.

Dar­ley, Mak­toum’s global breed­ing op­er­a­tion, has stal­lions in six coun­tries. Those horses in­clude Dubawi, who com­mands 75,000 pounds for a stud visit. Small wins lead to big prof­its

Thani says he doesn’t need to get big to win. He now has about 50 horses in train­ing af­ter spend­ing more than $9 mil­lion in the past 18 months buy­ing up year­lings, 2-year-olds and brood­mares for him­self and his fam­ily.

With his Mel­bourne Cup win, he was prof­itable again in 2011; in ad­di­tion to prize money, he sold three horses to buy­ers in Hong Kong for $1.57 mil­lion each.

While prof­it­ing from rac­ing is dif­fi­cult, breed­ing can be a gold mine. In May 2010, Thani at­tended his first ever horse race — the 2000 Guineas in New­mar­ket, one of Bri­tain’s five so-called clas­sic races.

Af­ter watch­ing a horse called Makfi win the race as a 33- to-1 out­sider, Thani asked David Red­vers, his blood­stock ad­viser, to see whether it made sense to buy the an­i­mal and start a stud busi­ness.

In Au­gust, Thani and Qipco bought Makfi for $11 mil­lion and formed Qatar Blood­stock, which runs along­side his per­sonal rac­ing busi­ness, Pearl Blood­stock.

Makfi, an off­spring of Mak­toum’s Dubawi, is now com­mand­ing 25,000 pounds per visit with a brood­mare.

In 2011, he “cov­ered,” or tried to im­preg­nate, 140 mares at Red­vers’s Tween­hills Farm & Stud west of Ox­ford, Eng­land, be­fore be­ing shipped to New Zealand, where he was sched­uled to cover 120 mares. Makfi gen­er­ated 6 mil­lion pounds for Qatar Blood­stock in 2011.

“Within three years, we will have made back the money plus some profit,” Thani says. “But the main thing with stal­lions is, if their prog­eny ac­tu­ally per­form well enough, you can make 200 to 300 per­cent of what you’ve paid for it eas­ily a year.” Re­strained ap­proach wins

While work­ing to­ward a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion at the Lon­don cam­pus of Euro­pean Univer­sity in 2008, Thani be­gan watch­ing rac­ing on tele­vi­sion. He was hooked. Thani says he started re­search­ing agents who could help him buy, and sev­eral peo­ple rec­om­mended David Red­vers.

In Fe­bru­ary 2010, Red­vers got a mes­sage that Thani wanted to talk to him. Red­vers had never heard of Thani and wasn’t sure whether it was worth fly­ing from New Zealand to Bri­tain to meet him. He says he asked a friend who had served in the Bri­tish Spe­cial Forces to fig­ure out who Thani was. The next day, the friend sent Red­vers a text: “Take the flight.”

Look­ing back, Thani says he liked Red­vers’s re­strained ap­proach.

“He popped up to me as kind of a shrewd per­son who doesn’t buy the top lot in the sale, where it can go crazy money some­times,” he says. Red­vers, 41, says he likes Thani’s ap­proach to in­vest­ing.

“We’ve taken the view we need to run it al­most as a busi­ness,” Red­vers says. “I say ‘al­most,’ be­cause with race­horses, there’s an el­e­ment of ‘You can never ex­pect to make money.’”

Thani’s Mel­bourne Cup win capped a rags-to-riches story that be­gan in 2006 with the sale of Du­naden — for 1,500 euros — to a Dutch cou­ple, Jetty van der Hulst and her hus­band, Hans Diehl, at a year­ling sale in Deauville, France.

For the next three years, the fu­ture cham­pion lived at the cou­ple’s farm in Ned­er­weert, the Nether­lands. Diehl, who had worked as a race­course of­fi­cial in Dutch trot­ting com­pe­ti­tions, got Du­naden ac­cus­tomed to start­ing gates when he was a year and a half old — by let­ting him walk through doors at their house, Van der Hulst says.

Af­ter Du­naden was bro­ken in, Van der Hulst and Diehl sold him for 17,000 euros at a sale in France, to Al­ban de Mieulle, owner of a Qatari race­horse sta­ble.

When Red­vers bought Du­naden last year on Thani’s be­half, the goal was not the Mel­bourne Cup; it was win­ning a less im­por­tant race at l’arc de Tri­om­phe. Du­naden lost — in a photo fin­ish.

Con­fi­dent of Du­naden’s progress, Thani stumped up more than 60,000 euros to trans­port him to Mel­bourne for an­other, hap­pier photo fin­ish. “We’ve been lucky,” Thani says. And busi­nesslike: “We’ve also bought into the right horses at the right value,” he says.

Af­ter all, the young sheik from Qatar is not one to throw around what he calls “crazy money.” Even in the sport of kings. The full ver­sion of this Bloomberg Mar­kets story ap­pears in its Fe­bru­ary is­sue.


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