Paul Alster
Israel-based print and broadcast journalist

Qatar’s unsuccessful tribute to Erdogan

With the impasse in the diplomatic battle between Qatar v Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt showing absolutely no sign of ending anytime soon, a far-from-subliminal message was delivered by beleaguered Qatar to arguably its closest supporter, Turkey, on Saturday afternoon at – of all places – Newbury racecourse in England!

The message was delivered, but the outcome was not as expected.

A glowing tribute to Turkey’s controversial leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan – as much a staunch ally of Qatar as he is of their mutual Islamist terror project, Hamas – was declared in the shape of a handsome two-year-old thoroughbred colt who cost his owners, Al Shaqab Racing, a whopping 750,000 guineas (a shade over US $1million). The colt, making his racecourse debut, had been named, Erdogan.

al shaqab image

(Above: Al Shaqab Racing)

The naming of a racehorse is no straightforward matter, and in most cases a horse cannot receive the name of a notable living person unless that person agrees that their name can be used for such a purpose. It has to be assumed, therefore, that this spectacularly unsubtle shmooze in naming this blue-blooded racehorse was done with the blessing of the man who survived a “coup” last summer, and has subsequently gone on to arrest and detain tens of thousands of political opponents, journalists, and human rights activists while repeatedly goading the international community. Why wouldn’t Qatar want to name a potential champion racehorse after such a nice man?!

Al Shaqab Racing was established by the former Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and is a project very close to the collective heart of the massive Qatari royal family. It is part of the Qatar Foundation that has so skilfully ingratiated itself into the international sporting consciousness with its links to many iconic sporting institutions, including Barcelona FC. Believing sport is a platform from which it can project itself to the masses as a democratic, responsible and meaningful nation, Qatar has done everything to brand itself on the world stage, including, of course, its notorious acquisition of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Al Shaqab has fast become a major force in international thoroughbred horse racing, spending many tens of millions of dollars each year competing on the highest stages of the racing world. They often see their star horses race against those of Queen Elizabeth II, the Aga Khan, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, as well as being both Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE. Sheikh Mohammed is currently doing all he can to call out Qatar for its links to international terrorism; not that Dubai and its allies in this fight have a particularly fine record on that score either.


(Above: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Makhtoum, ruler of Dubai)

So, to the 4.05 race at Newbury on Saturday afternoon, where the aforementioned Erdogan made its eagerly anticipated racecourse bow. The son of the legendary, unbeaten racehorse Frankel ran a decent race, but the much hoped for winning debut failed to materialise as the John Gosden-trained youngster could only finish third behind the impressive three-length winner, Gold Star – owned by none other than … Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai.

Wouldn’t you just have loved to be a fly on the wall in that particular winners’ enclosure?

About the Author
Paul Alster is an Israel-based broadcast journalist with a special interest in the Israel/Palestinian conflict and Middle East politics. He is a regular contributor to a variety of international news websites including The Jerusalem Report, and was formerly's main Middle East correspondent. He can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster or at
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