I’m absolutely delighted with the way our first Qatar Goodwood Festival went.
It was a bit of a rollercoaster.
On the Tuesday, the weather wasn’t brilliant but the racing was great. The Qatar Lennox Stakes was fantastic.
Wednesday’s build-up was hit a little by the news that Gleneagles wasn’t running in the Sussex Stakes. It was a blow but as it turned out, we still had a fantastic race.
Solow is the best miler in the world and he showed it here, and Arod pushed him all the way – a great spectacle.
Then on Thursday, Friday and Saturday the sun came out and we saw exactly what the meeting was all about.
The Qataris have sponsored the festival for the first time this year, and have committed to doing so for the next decade, and it’s fabulous that they had winners throughout the week.
We couldn’t have written a better script.
Al Shaqab Racing, which is Sheihk Joann’s operation, had five wins, but there were eight or nine Qatari-owned horses that won and Dubday’s win on Friday was superb.
That really couldn’t have been better.
Dubday is Qatar’s No1 horse – an absolute pin-up in Doha.
He is Sheikh Joann’s favourite horse and for him to come over and be the first Qatari-trained horse to win in Britain was a dream – in fact, you couldn’t dream it!
I think that would be my personal racing highlight of the week, which might seem a strange one to pick over the bigger races.
That was plotted in Doha in February. We saw Dubday win his second Emir’s Challenge over there and when we spoke to his trainer, he asked if there would be anything for him at Goodwood as he wanted to come over to the Qatar Goodwood Festival.
We said then, there was a Group 3 one-mile four-furlong race to aim for. So for them to come here, in similar weather to that in Doha in February, and see it happen was outstanding.
All the feedback we’ve had has been very positive. The racing was great, the racecourse looked amazing, and all the additional social things we’ve done in the evenings, like the polo, the cricket, the dinner and the ball, have been really well-received.
The feedback has been good from everybody, but particularly from the Qataris, it’s been positive.
What about Frankie Dettori?
Two or three years ago, if you’d said he’d still be riding in 2015, you’d have said ‘probably not’. If you’d said he’s be having the season he is, and riding six winners at our fesitval, you’d have said ‘no way’.
In fact he admitted as much himself. He said at our festival launch that in 2012 he was perhaps months from retiring – and here he is, reflecting on being leading jockey at the festival.
We’ve seen him do five flying dismounts and win the Qatar Stewards’ Cup – the only big race at the festival he’s never won – so it’s been a lovely story from him.
But it’s been just one of many stories to come out of the event.
Another one is Richard Hughes, who fittingly selected the last day of Glorious on which to retire. It’s bittersweet really because he’s been an absolutely key part of this festival for so many years. It’ll seem a bit strange next year without him riding.
The crowd gave him a great send-off but they were always going to. They love him here – but then how many of our regulars have gone home with cash in their pockets because of Hughesie? How many times has he won a race he shouldn’t have won? How many times has he popped up and got them out of jail in Goodwood races?
He got the send-off he deserved.
Crowd figures for the week have been excellent.
We were slightly up on last year for each of the first three days, well up on last year for the Friday, when we had well over 23,000, and we finished with a 25,000 sell-out on Saturday, giving us a record for the week of nearly 104,000.
We gave ourselves one day off after Saturday and then on Monday we started the process of looking at next year’s festival (while also remembering we have a three-day August holiday-weekend festival starting three weeks tomorrow).
There will always be a few issues to look at. Bigger crowds bring different challenges and if this meeting is going to grow, which we want it to, there will be a few little tweaks.
But on the whole it’s been successful. All we do, really, is provide a place for people to enjoy themselves – and I don’t think there’s much doubt they have enjoyed themselves this year!
And the nice thing now is to look back and remember this was only year one of the Qatar Goodwood Festival.
I’ve said before that the most exciting thing about this – never mind £4.5m in prize money this year or a £1m Sussex Stakes – is that this is is only year one of a ten-year deal.
No-one knows where we might be by 2024 but it’s been a fantastic first year.
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