Abu Dhabi signs five-year sponsorship deal for two premier French horse racing fixtures

LONDON // Abu Dhabi has signed a five-year deal to sponsor two horse racing fixtures in France, in a bid to turn the spotlight on the emirate and its efforts to create its own sports industry.

Faisal Al Rahmani, spokesman for the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and General Secretary of the President Of The UAE Cup, outlined his vision for Abu Dhabi’s involvement in European racing as the Poule d’Essai des Poulains takes centre stage at Deauville Racecourse today.

The Group 1 Purebred Arabian race that also staged today is the second leg of eight of this year’s President Of the UAE Cup.

Abu Dhabi dipped its toe into big time European racing sponsorship in 2010 when it backed the Irish Guineas, but as the Curragh racecourse did not want to entertain the idea of a Purebred Arabian race the relationship was ended the following season.

The deal has resulted in the prize-money to Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, which was won yesterday by Precieuse, being hiked by €50,000 to €500,000. The purse to today’s colt’s Classic has been increased by the same amount to €600,000. The President of the UAE Cup contest, featuring Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid’s Muraaqib, is now worth €100,000 and Friday’s Arqana Breeze-up sale was also given support.

“The Poule d’Essai des Poulains is the second best race in France behind the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and will be held at Longchamp in Paris due to the redevelopment from next year,” Mr Al Rahmani told The National at Deauville.

“European racing is really only about Britain, France and Ireland – none of the other countries really have such an impact as those.

We have signed a five-year deal and we hope to go further with this.”

In the grand scheme of things, Abu Dhabi’s sponsorship is not about eye-watering sums – Qatar’s huge investment in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe has made Europe’s showpiece turf contest worth €5.6 million and the Qatar Arabian World Cup holds a purse of €1m.

What the support of the first two French Classics does allow, however, is for Purebred Arabian horses to share the limelight with some of the best thoroughbreds in Europe. It is a tactic used by the President Of The UAE Cup previously and one that has worked so effectively for Qatar at the Arc meeting.

“I want long-term deals for the President Of The UAE Cup races,” Mr Al Rahmani said. “I want them to be staged on the biggest thoroughbred cards and to establish a foundation for them.

“This is not just about Purebred Arabian racing, or even horse racing. If you think that 20 years ago we had around 75 hotels in the UAE and now we have around ten times that, this is about spreading our culture, our traditions and so much more.”

As part of its efforts to boost its participation in the field of horse racing, Abu Dhabi set up in 2009 the Sheikh Mansoor Festival, a Purebred Arabian race series that is overseen by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage. It now has races all over the world, with Algeria announced this week as the latest country to stage their races.

“Racing in Europe is worth billions, and whether that is about the industry, the land, the racecourses themselves, we want a share of this. Through initiatives like the Sheikh Mansoor Festival we have ambassadors coming racing. We have businessmen coming racing and making deals. We want to work with the system as a whole and the more people that come and see our races, the better it is for everybody.”

The Poule d’Essai des Poulains has attracted 13 colts with the UAE represented by two horses from the Godolphin stable and one set to carry the colours of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid.

Godolphin will run Salsabeel and Inns Of Court, trained respectively by Charlie Appleby and Andre Fabre, while Mankib will run for the Minister of Finance.

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