Newbury, UK (CNN)For the last 38 years, a quintessential pocket of British countryside nestling amongst a sea of rolling green hills 60 miles from London, has been paying homage to Arabian horse racing and culture.
Some of the richest people in the world — including members of the Dubai royal family — descend on Newbury’s racecourse to showcase the best of Middle Eastern culture both to horse racing fans as well as members of the local community.
Different from the thoroughbreds that you might usually associate with racing, Arabian horses are generally smaller and are renowned for their stamina.
“They are cheeky, that’s for sure,” leading jockey Bryony Frost, who was riding in the Newbury event for the very first time, told CNN Sport as she reflected on the two breeds’ different physical attributes.
“They’re good fun, they’re very sharp, they’re very intelligent, They’re always going to be two steps ahead of you so you’ve got to be three steps ahead of them.
She continued: “If you were to have a room full of class children with thoroughbreds and then the Arabs, I would definitely say that they [Arabian horses] would be the troublemakers amongst the bunch.”
Growing the sport
Getting Frost to attend the event was certainly a coup for the organizers — the 24-year-old is one of the most recognizable faces in British racing. In March she became the first female jockey to win a top-flight race at the iconic Cheltenham Festival.
In between competing, Frost joined in the carnival atmosphere of the day, walking amongst the fans and answering any questions the crowd might have.
She admitted to “throwing myself in the deep end” by making the switch from jumps to flat horses but was happy to help the sport develop.
“It gets massive support from the owners and the trainers as well,” said Frost. “Days like this you wouldn’t know the difference between a flat meeting and an Arabian meeting.”
“Crowds are really coming in because the money is behind it. So the children and everyone can have a class day.”
Frost was not the only big name to take place in the event, with four-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Olivier Peslier also competing in front of the enthusiastic crowd.
The thoroughbred racing we see globally today would not have existed without Arabian horses.
Almost all thoroughbred racehorses can be traced back to three Arabian horses that traveled to Europe to partner with the local breeds, providing the foundation for the lucrative industry today.
Indeed, 95% of thoroughbreds can be linked back to one super stallion — the Darley Arabian.
This legendary horse was spotted in the 1700s by British Consul Thomas Darley while in Aleppo, Syria, and taken back to England where he covered local mares.
Amongst others, the Darley Arabian sired Flying Childers — one of the first champion thoroughbreds in history.
However, as thoroughbred racing has grown into a billion-pound industry, Arabian racing has been left still finding its feet.
“I think Arab racing is at a crossroads where it’s probably got to go more professional and bring in the opportunity for more people to own and train,” Richard Lancaster, who is director of Shadwell Stud — a global Arabian breeding and racing operation — told CNN Sport.
“It has to get itself a good financial base from which it can expand and bring a lot of fun to people.”
Royal stamp of approval
The Newbury event is the brainchild of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE Minister of Finance and the Deputy Ruler of Dubai.
An enthusiastic racing fan, Sheikh Hamdan is a patron of the Dubai International Arabian Races program (DIAR), which is an organization that runs the Arabian racing calendar and encourages more people to become regular spectators.
The member of the Dubai royal family is also a patron of Shadwell Stud, which helps run the special day
“It gives me more than pleasure actually, it is an honor to have such a crowd coming to Newbury, especially the schools and the youngsters,” Mirza Al Sayegh, director of the office of Sheikh Hamdan and Shadwell chairman, told CNN Sport.
Newbury’s day of celebrating Arabian horses has a real carnival atmosphere and provides a wonderful opportunity for people to experience a raceday for free.
This year there were 153 runners competing across eight races, with a number of international participants.
“It shows you that everywhere in Europe is most welcome to come and participate in Newbury,” said Mirza Al Sayegh.
“And from here we start to send some more horses to Europe again. Yeah, this is all about cooperation and promotion of the Arabians.”
DIAR has been working with individual countries to help develop awareness of Arabian Racing. It’s been sponsoring domestic Arabian racing in Italy for a number of years which culminated in the first ever internationally recognized stakes race held in the country — the Premio DIAR.
The UK has also seen signs of growth, notably with the Qatar International Stakes taking place at Glorious Goodwood.
Glitz and glamor
Dubai, in particular, has long been a hub for world-class horses and the region is keen to promote it’s passion worldwide.
“This is so important. Arabian horse racing is something that has been growing and developing over the decades,” Mansoor Abulhoul, UAE Ambassador to the UK, told CNN Sport.
“I think it is racing is exciting. You get dressed up and there is a bit of glitz and glamor.”