Jockeys from all over the world have made Qatar home to take advantage of the enviable opportunity to race in the state-of-the-art equestrian club here. The number of professional jockeys in the country has grown in the past few years, and so has the number of European riders, of whom there are more than 20 now.
Jockeys begin riding at a young age and can race professionally until their mid-forties. One such jockey is David Bouland from France, who started riding horses at 16 in his home country and has been based in Doha for the past 15 years.
Yesterday, he won the third race of the Qatar International Race Day, part of the 22nd Qatar International Equestrian Festival. “I decided to come to Qatar 15 years ago because in France it was more difficult. When I first came to Qatar, there were not so many races, but now there are big competitions,” he said.
Bouland knew he wanted to work with horses since he was five, because his father was a trainer. He’s very happy with his life in Qatar: “I have many friends, and a good balance.”
In order to keep fit and train between races, he rides four horses every morning. Friday is his only day off, and he uses his free time to play golf and do a little running.
A big challenge for all jockeys is to maintain the ideal body weight, which ranges from 54 to 58 kilos. “It’s very hard,” said the French rider.
There are between 15 and 20 European jockeys currently riding in Qatar. In most cases, when the season ends they go back to their country. This is the case with Bouland; in May, he goes to France, where he lives for four months.
Bouland is 42 and hopes to keep working until he’s 45. “It’s a job for young people, but the extra years can be compensated with experience,” he explained. When he ends his career as a jockey, he wants to stay in Qatar because he likes living here.
Italian jockey Pierantonio Convertino is 28 years old and has been riding for over a decade, and has taken part in more than 1,000 races. “It’s been a good season for me because I won nine races. I am very lucky also because, after two seasons, I’m sure I’ll stay for another week.”
“In Qatar we race one or two times a week, while in Italy I used to do so every day,” he said. Due to the fewer number of races, keeping the right weight becomes a bigger test. “Every day is a fight with food, you can eat everything but you have to control yourself, sometimes we eat only one time a day,” he added.
Jockeys usually ride different horses in each race, a decision that is up to the owner or trainer and, ultimately, up to the horse. “I ride four horses every morning and I have good training, and almost all the jockeys I compete with are from different countries,” Convertino said.
Like many of his colleagues, he’ll go back to Italy before the end of the season to take part in the races in Milan and Rome, because “those are the best tracks in Italy,” he said.
About his life outside the race club, he thinks in Doha there are many places to go, “but now I have a baby that keeps me very busy,” he joked.
Jockeys find riding Arabian horses is different. “They only have one speed, they are strong, have more stamina, but they go slow, and they are lazier,” said Convertino.
A number of jockeys from all over the world, even Qataris, have come to Qatar to compete in the 38th Race Meeting. One of them is S Sanders from Britain, who had been in Doha for only six hours when he told The Peninsula that it was not his first visit to the country. He first came here a few years ago, and has noticed a great improvement in the facilities.
Like his peers, he stresses the fact that among the main requirements for being a jockey is “being light, fit and very dedicated to the job, because it’s not an easy one.”
He has been racing for over two decades, but says the length of the professional life of a jockey depends on each person: “Some even ride until they are 59.”
Also in Qatar for a couple of days is Naif K Alanazi from Saudi Arabia, a 19-year-old who took part in the race yesterday and was lucky to win – “for my country” - in his first professional competition. For this youngster, riding was a dream. “I love horses, it’s my dream, no matter how many times I fall. For me it’s like water for other people”.
Cristina Buesa from Spain is also taking part in the world championship, which has brought 15 women riders to Doha. “The ambience is very different from that in Europe, the one I know, partly because there is no gambling,” she said. The Peninsula
The Racing and Equestrian Club (REC) was established in 1975. Located in New Rayyan, it has the mission to develop thoroughbred and pure bred Arabian horse racing events, organising Arabian horse shows and encouraging horse owners to own the best horses and to develop horse breeding. Racing events take place every Thursday from October to May, with over 40 race meetings held annually.
Since 2008, REC is the official sponsor of the weekend of Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, which is held in Longchamp, Paris during the first weekend of October. REC will be the official sponsor of this prestigious racing event till 2022.
There is a sand track and a turf at the club. There are also show arenas, where horse shows and national championships are held, as well as grandstands for spectators. The REC’s stables have been equipped with all that is necessary for care of horses. The club has professional vets for providing veterinary care to the steeds.
With effect from the 2000-2001 racing season, the REC has been organising the Qatar International Equestrian Festival (QIEF), which is an annual week-long event. The first Festival was held in March 2001. Arab and international horse owners, trainers and jockeys are keen to participate in QIEF.