No impact on race sponsorship expected from Gulf crisis

Qatar’s Qipco signed a three-year extension to sponsor Champion Stakes at Leopardstown

Christophe Soumillon on board Almanzor celebrates winning The Qipco Irish Champion Stakes last September. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Christophe Soumillon on board Almanzor celebrates winning The Qipco Irish Champion Stakes last September. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Irish racing officials are confident the new three-year Qipco sponsorship of Leopardstown’s Irish Champion Stakes will be unaffected by the cutting of all economic and diplomatic ties with Qatar by a coalition of Gulf states including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar’s ruling al-Thani family have been major investors in European racing and bloodstock in recent years through both the state-sponsored Al Shaqab racing and Qatar Racing, which is owned by Sheikh Fahad.

Qatar Racing is a subsidiary of the investment vehicle Qipco which has become a major race sponsor – including of Ireland’s highest rated race, the €1.25 million Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, which is the highlight of September’s ‘Irish Champions Weekend.’

Qipco signed a three-year extension to their sponsorship in January and although political upheaval in the Gulf has provoked speculation of a possible impact on racing, including the potential for other Arab owners to not run horses in races sponsored by Qatari interests, Leopardstown’s chief executive Pat Keogh has stressed that Qipco is a privately owned company.

“It is a privately owned family investment vehicle and is distinct from the state of Qatar,” he said on Friday.

“Our relationship with Qipco has been in place since the very start of Longines Irish Champions Weekend and they are a very big supporter. They have signed a new three-year deal and we have got to know Sheikh Fahad very well. His support is very much valued,” Keogh added.

Horse Racing Ireland’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh said racing’s ruling body here will take its lead from the Irish Government in relation to overall policy on what is happening in Qatar.

Tiny element

“Racing is a tiny element of the relationship between Qatar and this country,” said Kavanagh. “Sheikh Fahad has put a lot of money into Ireland and I would say has up to 30 horses in training here as well as sponsoring the Champion Stakes.”  

The Qatar Racing colours have become familiar in Ireland and the Sheikh has horses in training with Ger Lyons and Michael O’Callaghan. His colours will be carried by the English-trained runner, Evil Spell, in Sunday’s Group Three feature at the Curragh.

Sheikh Fahad is an enthusiastic amateur jockey and was recently confirmed as taking part again this year in the Corinthian Challenge series of races, a charity in aid of Irish Injured Jockeys. He won one of the 2016 series of races at Leopardstown on the subsequent Cheltenham festival winner, Labaik.

When renewing the Champion Stakes sponsorship in January, Sheikh Fahad said: “I really enjoy my racing in Ireland. We have had a lot of success there and we always receive a great welcome.”

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