Hensey A Valuable Hire For Al Shaqab

Paul Hensey | Alayna Cullen


Since Al Shaqab Racing's first foray into racehorse ownership, the organization has grown exponentially with strong investment in bloodstock globally. The company has built an impressive stud farm at Haras de Bouquetot, which houses its nine-strong stallion roster as well as playing host to a broodmare band that includes dual G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe heroine Treve (Fr) (Motivator {GB}) and multiple Group 1 winner Qemah (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}) to name a few. However, it may be Al Shaqab's investment in personnel that sees the company thrive and prosper for many years to come. Among the list of industry professionals that help Sheikh Joann achieve the goals set for his silver and maroon silks is new recruit Paul Hensey, who started as Chief Operating Officer for the company in July of 2020.

“Just before the very first lockdown last year we more or less agreed that I was going to move to Al Shaqab,” said Hensey on how his position came about. Starting with any company usually involves a transition period of getting to know the team and in the case of Al Shaqab it would involve travel, as the operation has entities in five different countries around the world. Naturally, trying to do this in a global pandemic made things a little more difficult for Hensey.

“It is going very well given the difficult year,” he said. “Al Shaqab is such a big international operation, with entities in France, the UK, Ireland, Australia and America, so from my point of view we have been trying to manage where I'm going so I can quarantine. I've managed quite well to get around to meet everybody. We've managed to keep in touch with Zoom calls, emails and telephone calls. It's been a challenge, but it's been good.”

While there is no denying that 2020 posed many challenges globally, Hensey's extensive experience in the Thoroughbred industry has doubtless stood him in good stead to hit the ground running in his new guise. A graduate of the Irish National Stud Thoroughbred Breeding Course, Hensey spent 14 years at the helm of The Curragh Racecourse, a period in his career that he remembers as being “a great, great time,” before helping to found and build Rifa Mustang's European operation.

“When I left the Curragh Racecourse, Rifa approached me to do some work for them on a consultancy basis,” recalls Hensey. “They already had an operation in Australia and they were exploring options in Europe. I joined them full time as the European CEO.”

Although the decision to join Al Shaqab meant a huge opportunity for Hensey, it is understandable that leaving Rifa wasn't an easy decision.

“It was close to my heart because I had been involved in it from the very start,” he said. “But, obviously when Al Shaqab came along it was a huge opportunity. When I met Sheikh Joaan Al Thani last February, it became very clear to me that he certainly had great enthusiasm and great ambition for Al Shaqab. He wanted to get it back to where it had been. Hopefully I can play a part and help them along the road.”

The part Hensey hopes to execute for Al Shaqab will be to see the operation return to the glory days of its early successes which included Treve, Olympic Glory (Ire) and Toronado (Ire), the latter two standing as stallions for the operation. Joining the existing horses in training carried over from 2020 will be roughly 90 2-year-olds that are a combination of homebreds and horses bought at the sales, as “Al Shaqab was very active at the yearling sales.”

While there is every hope that 2021 will welcome many more high-class performances on the racetrack, it would be remiss not to look back on the success of a stallion Al Shaqab stands in partnership with Tally Ho Stud. “[Mehmas] was fantastic. I think everybody expected him to get lots of winners but I don't think anybody really expected the quality that has come through,” Hensey said. “Tally Ho have done a fantastic job with him.”

With Mehmas having earned the crown as champion first-season sire in 2020, the operation will be hoping one of their four stallions with first 2-year-olds this year will be able to make a similar impression.

“We have Al Wukair (Ire), who is a really classy horse,” Hensey said. “He was a Group 1 winner over a mile. Then there is Ectot (GB) and Zelzal (Fr), who are both Group 1 winners over a mile too. Then Galileo Gold (GB) is a stablemate of Mehmas at Tally Ho. We have big hopes for him as well.”

Joining the stallion roster at Haras de Bouquetot for the forthcoming season are Wooded (Ire) (Wootton Bassett {GB}) and Romanised (Ire) (Holy Roman Emperor {Ire}). The former carried Al Shaqab's silks to victory in the G1 Prix de l'Abbaye and provides breeders with an opportunity to visit the Wootton Bassett line after that sire's departure from France.

“With Wootton Bassett going to Coolmore, we thought long and hard about whether we would keep [Wooded] in training or not. But we felt that if there was ever a year to retire a son of Wootton Bassett in France this was it,” said Hensey.

With the wheels in motion, 2021 could see Sheikh Joaan's ambitions being met for Al Shaqab. Speaking with Hensey there seems to be a real buoyancy about the future for the operation with the established teams having already laid an excellent road map for success. As COO, Hensey needs to ensure smooth passage. Given his capability and personable nature, it seems that Al Shaqab is set for a straight line to success.

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