Epsom Beckons Once More For Al Sagar


Imad Al Sagar, owner/breeder of Oaks contender Nashwa | Racingfotos.com


It is 15 years since Authorized (Ire) (Montjeu {Ire}) streaked down the hill at Epsom to give Frankie Dettori his first win in the Derby. For the colt's owners Imad Al Sagar and Saleh Al Homaizi it was also a first Derby victory, but it was their second Classic winner in as many years as Araafa (Ire) (Mull Of Kintyre {Ire})) had landed the previous season's Irish 2,000 Guineas before going on to win the St James's Palace S.

Such success at the highest level for the duo who had previously been champion owners in their native Kuwait then kindled an interest in breeding which led to the purchase of two farms on the outskirts of Newmarket. Together they would become known as Blue Diamond Stud.

Now solely under the ownership of Imad Al Sagar, the stud is a thriving concern, with 40 broodmares in its paddocks and more than 20 horses in training in Britain, predominantly homebreds, with John and Thady Gosden, Roger Varian, Clive Cox, Roger Charlton, Archie Watson, and Andrew Balding. The fruits of the Blue Diamond team's labours, in the paddocks and at the sales grounds over the years, are being enjoyed especially this season, most notably in the prospect of another Classic contender, this time in the Oaks.

Nashwa (GB), a daughter of Frankel (GB) and the former Blue Diamond Stud colour-bearer Princess Loulou (GB) (Pivotal {GB}), trained by John and Thady Gosden, was this week confirmed as being on course for Epsom. This followed some deliberation between remaining in England or heading to France for the shorter option of the Prix de Diane.

“Winning the Derby was incredibly special,” says Al Sagar. “It was a dream come true and it is a very exciting time now, with history repeating itself in a way, to be able to go to Epsom with another Classic contender.”

The breeder admits that choosing between Epsom and Chantilly was not easy, particularly as Nashwa's own stable contains the current Oaks favourite Emily Upjohn (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}). But Nashwa, whose dam, purchased as a yearling by Tony Nerses, won a 10-furlong Listed contest in testing conditions and was runner-up in the G1 Prix Jean Romanet, has given Al Sagar cause for optimism.  Her most recent win, and her second of the year, came over 10 furlongs in the Listed Haras de Bouquetot Fillies' Trial at Newbury, and he points to another facet of the filly which may help her in the Oaks.

He says, “She is improving and the progress she has made from two to three is enormous. Especially in the the last two months she has really flourished. She has become a lot stronger physically and mentally.

“We agreed to have an open mind; it was a difficult decision. Nashwa has not yet run over a mile and a half. The filly has abundant speed as she showed over a mile at Haydock. But pedigree-wise, I know the family, and Frankel throws horses who compete over all kinds of distances. She is the type of filly who relaxes very well. She has a great temperament and she switches off in her races.”

Al Sagar adds, “We are not sure, of course. But she's laidback and also she has a very good turn of foot, so these things I think will help her to get a mile and a half.

“It is a nice problem to have. I hope all our problems are like this.”

Thus far it has been a season with problems mostly far from his mind. In some ways, Al Sagar has already celebrated a Classic winner, even if it was at a slight remove. Back in 2019 at Arqana he bought Zotilla (Ire) from Ecurie des Monceaux for €75,000. Her Dark Angel (Ire) filly foal born earlier that year was subsequently retained by Monceaux and its partners after failing to reach her reserve at the yearling sales, and last Sunday, as Mangoustine (Fr), she won the G1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches.

“I bought Mangoustine's dam Zotilla and Manasarova, the dam of Sicilian Defense (GB) on the same day and then both of them had runners in the French Guineas,” he notes. “Sicilian Defense actually ran a very good race when she was short of room.”

Blue Diamond Stud is also home to the well-related Tisa River (Ire) (Equiano {Fr}), purchased in 2020 when her family had come to life through her consecutive Breeders' Cup-winning half-siblings Iridessa (Ire) (Ruler Of The World {Ire}) and Order Of Australia (Ire) (Australia {GB}). The pedigree was subsequently enhanced by another sibling, Santa Barbara (Ire) (Camelot {GB}), the winner last season of the GI Belmont Oaks and GI Beverly D S. 

Tisa River is currently in foal to Frankel, as is Princess Loulou, carrying a full-sibling to Nashwa. Meanwhile Zotilla is in foal to Dubawi (Ire) with a Too Darn Hot (GB) filly foal at foot.

Queen of the paddocks, however, is Pearling (Storm Cat), the sister to Giant's Causeway and Coolmore blue hen You'resothrilling. She gave Blue Diamond Stud its first homebred Group 1 winner when her son Decorated Knight (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) won the Jebel Hatta at Meydan and then followed up with victories in the Tattersalls Gold Cup and Irish Champion S. for Roger Charlton during a glorious 2017 season.

Decorated Knight, a close relative to the high-achieving Classic family of Gleneagles (Ire), Marvellous (Ire) and Happily (Ire), is now a resident of the Irish National Stud and has been well supported by his co-owner/breeder.

Al Sagar may yet also have an interest of sorts in this year's Derby field, as still engaged at this stage is Masekela (Ire), whom he pinhooked as a foal after he had admired Masekela's sire El Kabeir at Yeomanstown Stud. The pinhook project just about broke even, but more important was the vindication in Al Sagar's judgement when Masekela won on debut, finished runner-up in the G2 Superlative S.–beaten a short-head by Native Trail (GB), no less–and then subsequently landed the Listed Denford S. for Andrew Balding and owners Mick and Janice Mariscotti.

Al Sagar's main focus, however, is on his burgeoning breeding operation. At the end of 2018 he and Al Homaizi went their separate ways, with much of the stock being offered at auction to dissolve their partnership. Al Sagar bought back a number of the mares, including Pearling, and earlier this year he announced a major restructuring of the Blue Diamond Stud team. Lord Grimthorpe was appointed as racing manager, with Ted Voute becoming chief executive officer, Gerry Meehan announced as yearling manager and Nancy Sexton as bloodstock and media advisor.

“I think Blue Diamond deserved the time and investment and I decided that restructuring was very important for the future of the stud,” he says. “I am very much comfortable with my team and we have started to see very positive results on the ground which I hope will help us to achieve our future goals.”

Al Sagar visits the Newmarket farms, spread across 330 acres, as often as he can from his home in Kuwait, and he likes to be hands-on when it comes to matings.

“I very much enjoy it, especially over the last six or seven years,” he says. “When we first started breeding horses in 2007 we made many mistakes, but I am happy we did it because we learned a lot from it and now we can see things are moving forward with the progeny. With breeding you don't know what you will get, so now our strategy is to upgrade the quality of mares. Broodmares are the foundation for any farm and our strategy is to improve the quality and to have a wide spectrum of bloodlines, such as Scat Daddy, what is remaining of the Roberto line, Blushing Groom line. It is these things that we are focusing on to improve our progeny.”

The owner took some by surprise when announcing Hollie Doyle as his retained jockey in 2020. She remains in that position, with Martin Dwyer as second jockey. The arrangement has already been a successful one, with Doyle having ridden not just Nashwa, but also Nazanin (GB), Majestic Noor (GB) and Extra Elusive (GB) to stakes victories in the green and silver silks of Blue Diamond Stud.

“Things have changed,” says Al Sagar on the topic of retaining a woman as principal rider. “It wasn't an easy decision, but in my opinion Hollie ticks all the boxes as a jockey. I do believe that the gender shouldn't be an obstacle to being a good jockey. Hollie has the brain, has the strength, has the courage, and this is what you need in a jockey. This is now the third year and we are extremely happy.”

Should Doyle become the first woman to ride a British Classic winner when she partners Nashwa in the Oaks, it would doubtless be a moment in which horseracing makes the front pages of the national newspapers for all the right reasons. It would not only be a well deserved success for one of the outstanding jockeys of her generation, but also for the man who has invested passion and thought along with considerable financial reserves into breeding a filly worthy of her place in the field. 

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