28 December 2015 ~ Dr. Mohammad Al-Nujaifi, businessman, writer, and historian of Arab Islamic and Middle East history, has a Doctorate in Agriculture from Oxford University and divides his time between Iraq and Europe. He has authored books in Arabic and English titled: The Purebred Arabian Horses of Iraq, Myths & Realities. Breeder/owner of many successful purebred Iraqi Arabian racehorses, he has been top in placings for the International Federation of Arabian Horse Racing Authorities (IFAHR) for the past five years (2010-2015). He is President of the Iraqi Arabian Horse Organization, Chairman of the Iraqi Registration & Studbook committee, and international representative for the Iraqi Registration. Dr. Al Nujaifi is fluent in Arabic and English.
HR: We would like to recognize your achievements. Could you share with us and www.horsereporter.com (HR) some of your techniques and ideas for breeding and racing top-level Arabian race horses?
Your horses have been successful in France, Europe, and Turkey in the past few years. During the September 2015, International Meeting in Istanbul, your filly Ghazwa won the Gr I PA Malazgirt Trophy under trainer Damien de Watrigant, while your filly Hurra came second in the IFAHR Trophy Gr II PA under trainer Dianne Dorenberg. Both of these horses were tuned to these races. Is there any reason that you have them trained under different yards? Both horses were foaled in France and are eligible for breeders’ premiums there. How important are these French breeder premiums in your racing operation?
Dr.Al N: I observe and judge my horses at three years old (mainly not racing them at 3), keep the most suitable to race in France with Damien de Watrigant and send others to my other trainers in Holland and Sweden (suitability of race tracks and other considerations). However, circumstances may change to justify either racing them internationally or even bringing them back to France like Gharraa. We may take them away from France to Sweden if they are more dirt horses like Al Asad.
The Breeders premium is a very important subsidy to breeders and owners as it almost doubles the prize money, which is an encouragement to breeders and owners alike.
HR:Do you still have a breeding operation in Iraq? Are there breeding premiums there as well?
Dr.Al N:Yes, we as a family still have breeding operations in Iraq. But unfortunately no breeders/owners scheme.
HR: The races in Iraq – At what age do you begin to race? What is different in the racing there than in Europe – distance, course?
Dr.Al N: Races in Iraq started in 1920 after the British built racecourses there in 1918. Horses start to race at the age of 30 months (just 3 months before they become 3 years old) between September-January. There are special races for such an age group. The distances are the same as in Europe. There is only one racetrack in Baghdad.
HR: What is the main strength of the Iraqi breeding?
Dr.Al N: Iraqi bloodline is an ancient bloodline developed particularly for flat racing.
HR: Will you race any horses outside of France/Iraq in 2016? Do you also race in the UK?
Dr. Al N: I have horses in training in France, Holland, and Sweden. These horse race all around Europe in suitable and group races, as well as Turkey in their International races in September. We do plan to race Internationally in 2016.
HR: Gharraa has done well since being imported to France in 2010. Gharraa’s sire is of Russian breeding via Drug. Did you import semen for breeding at that time to Iraq for the 2007 breeding year? What are your plans for Gharraa or is she now in your breeding program?
Dr.Al N: Gharraa started her racing carrier in Sweden. She was trained by Pia Hoiom and raced there very successfully for two seasons. After that I sent her to France to be trained by Damien de Watrigant and she raced very successfully for another two seasons in France, UK, and Turkey.
We do not import frozen semen in Iraq. I bought her sire, Matador, the son of Drug and the Russian Derby winner Trepet plus 3 other stallions from Russia and imported them to Iraq in 2003. Gharraa is a successful broodmare joining my other broodmares kept in France in Val Bunting’s stud farm. Gharraa has a filly by Hilal Al Zaman called Durat Al Zaman and is in foal to Burning Sand for 2016.
HR: Hilal Al Zaman, of Iraqi and French breeding and winner of the 2012 Malazgirt Trophy Gr I, has also had a successful racing career. Can you tell us his strong points?
Dr.Al N: Hilal Al Zaman is a tough, strong, top class international race horse. He is a fighter, with beautiful look and cool temperament, and stayed sound throughout his long and successful racing carrier in Iraq and Europe, which is so important to breeders when considering a stallion.
HR: Last year Hilal Al Zaman was available via frozen semen. Where is he standing in France and is there frozen semen this year?
Dr.Al N: Hilal Al Zaman stands in France at Haras du Mazet in Beyssac near Pompadour. Actually he is more used for natural covering, but some frozen semen was exported to the USA and he has foals there as well. He covered about 20 mares for the 2014 season and about 20 mares for 2015. He is ready for 2016 breeding season. There is no semen available in the USA for my other stallion Izz Al Khail. He is only available in Europe.
HR: We know that Val Bunting has been a long time adviser in your racing breeding/racing program. Where did you first encounter Val? What role does she now play in your racing operation? Does she care for all of your breeding mares and foal?
Dr.Al N: Val and her late husband Stan are dear friends whom I have known for more than 20 years. She has purchased many good horses for me that I exported to Iraq for my breeding program there. She is in charge of my breeding and racing operations in Europe and she keeps all my breeding mares and youngsters in her farm in the southwest of France. She is very experienced and I take my breeding and racing decisions in consultation with her and my son Zaid.
HR: We are devastated to know about the conflicts that have destroyed the area around Mosul and affected the farm and lands of your family. Were you able to save your horses and do you have control of your farm lands now?
Dr.Al N: Fortunately we managed to save some horses that were in racing in Baghdad and few breeding stock that we managed to move to Erbil in Kurdistan. But the remaining of the stock, the farm, the land, our houses, and all our properties have been stolen by the terrorist group ISIS.
HR: Do you feel that raising the horses on grasslands in Iraq running free has helped to establish their endurance and independence for racing?
Dr.Al N: Of course keeping the horses running free on the land always helps to develop their limbs and racing organs. Also we provide them with the necessary supplementary nutrition. However, I believe that Europe as well as the USA has a better quality of grass, feed, and veterinary services.
HR: Is racing in Iraq still ongoing and strong in spite of the conflicts? Are you now racing more in Europe?
Dr.Al N: It is rather unique in Iraq. Racing never stopped even under the height of the War and bombardment. Furthermore it is probably the safest place in Iraq. This is where people from all walks of life go racing and enjoy the company of each other without any conflicts between them. There are two meetings a week for 11 months of the year.
HR: Can you import/export horses from Iraq at this time? Do you have other Iraqi imports that will join your racing family in France soon?
Dr.Al N: I can export horses from Iraq through a third country but now with all the conflicts it is not as easy to find a country who will accept them from Iraq. They cannot go directly as Iraq is no longer a member of the third part agreement that allows the free movement of horses from and to Europe and most countries. We don’t have diseases in Iraq but it is just the EU rules and regulations.
HR: Since your bloodlines in Iraq are of ancient strains, are you eligible to race in the Heritage Arabian Racing Club (HARC) races?
Dr.Al N: Yes, indeed. And my mare Labwah from pure Iraqi bloodline and was trained by Pia Hoiom in Sweden raced in a HARC race in Belgium in October. Because there were not enough eligible HARC horses the race was combined with non HARC horses. Although she was second in the race she was first HARC horse home, giving the winner an enormous 11 kilos.
HR: Are you now bringing in more outside blood to your breeding program? This is a large question for many breeders – what is your criteria to find the correct stallion?
Dr.Al N: You are right.This is the most difficult criteria for any breeder because there are many top-class race horses turned stallion available now days. However, I am using different available top stallions on my mares every year. This is with one exception as is I am using Hilal Al Zaman on one or two mares every year because his foals are of exceptional quality. I am also very impressed with the first foal of Izz Al Khail.
HR: Are there any big changes in store for your breeding/racing goals in 2016 and the near future?
Dr.Al N: No big changes. I am glad that there are many top class races available in Europe, Turkey, and the Middle East which give us a wider choice of stallions. Since my horses are timed to race within the European racing season, it makes it very difficult for me to take them to races in the Middle East as I usually stop racing by November and give them about three months holiday every year.
HR: Anything else you would like to add?
Dr.Al N: I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to your readers. And I would like to thank all countries and individuals who are sponsoring and working hard to improve the Arab horse race industry as a whole worldwide.