Al Shira’aa Farms has already achieved plenty in a short space of time, with a top-flight winner and a host of other notable talents having carried the owner’s black and red-detailed colours. But given the operation’s early moves have all been about seeding for the future, the roots that have been laid down look poised to blossom into something far more significant.

Al Shira’aa is the nom de plume of Sheikha Fatima bint Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a granddaughter of the United Arab Emirate’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. She is an important figure in the region not just as a member of the royal family but as an ambassador of cultural development and a patron of art, sports and culture. She has also appeared on the cover of Vogue Arabia and has collaborated on collections with high-end jewellery designer Bulgari. 

An affinity with the horse has been handed down through many generations of her family and Al Shira’aa’s wide-ranging equine interests include Arabians, dressage and showjumping. The organisation has equestrian stables and homebred breeding operations in the UAE and Britain, and has also signed up as the title sponsor to the prestigious Hickstead Derby until at least 2024. 

“The love for horses runs through my family’s blood like blood runs through our veins and oxygen in our lungs,” she writes on the Al Shira’aa Arabians website. 

That passion is now being felt in the racing and bloodstock world, with Al Shira’aa represented by a boutique racing string split between trainers in France, Ireland and the US and a burgeoning breeding operation based at Meadow Court Stud in County Kildare. 

“The boss is very passionate about all animals but especially horses,” says Kieran Lalor, Al Shira’aa’s racing and bloodstock manager. “She’s a very busy businesswoman so when she comes to the farm, she wants to spend as much time as possible out in the fields with the horses and just enjoy them.”

Kieran Lalor: oversees the running of Al Shira’aa Farms. Photo – Tattersalls

There has been much for Sheikha Fatima to enjoy beyond the Meadow Court paddocks, too, as Mutamakina has put the Al Shira’aa name in lights on the global stage. At three the daughter of Nathaniel won the Listed Prix Madame Jean Couturie for Carlos Laffon-Parias before making a successful switch to the Stateside stable of Christophe Clement, for whom she won the Grade 2 Dance Smartly Stakes and, more significantly, the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes.

“It’s a dream for everyone just to think about reaching that milestone, so our first Grade 1 was a massive day and one that we won’t forget,” says Lalor. “She was very competitive in France, running against horses like Sottsass [when second in the Prix Niel], and then she went to the States with Christophe Clement and is now a two-time Grade 3, Grade 2 and a Grade 1 winner out there.” 

Mutamakina’s career trajectory reflects Al Shira’aa’s wider ambitions, as she performed with distinction on the track and is now ready to take up a new role as member of the broodmare band. She has been pencilled in for a date with Dubawi next spring. 

Other established performers could soon follow suit too, either by winning at the highest level or by joining the broodmare band, depending which way discussions go, namely the Listed-winning Jannah Flower, who was last seen running a fast-finishing second in the Prix de Royallieu, and Rumi, whose record is headed by victory in the Group 2 Prix de la Nonette. 

“Both of those mares are very important to us now and certainly for the future,” says Lalor. “Jannah Flower came out of the Royallieu in great shape. She’s relatively lightly raced for a four-year-old and seems to just relish the more ground she gets.

“We feel Rumi, just like Jannah Flower, is certainly a Group 1 calibre filly. She is still with Carlos and might run once more this year. Next year is still up in the air but she will either retire to the broodmare band or possibly go to America to race with Christophe with a couple of Grade 1 targets in mind. I’ll have that discussion with the boss but, either way, she’ll get a few months rest at the farm here shortly.”

Al Shira’aa’s long-term aim is to build up a band of regally bred mares capable of producing runners that compete at the highest echelons of global racing. Given Sheikha Fatima’s own route into the thoroughbred world, it is no surprise that she is acutely aware of how important lineage can be. 

“When I came on board we all sat down and came up with a long-term plan,” says Lalor. “When you get into this game, especially with a new owner, you want to impress upon them the aim is to be as good as the Juddmontes, Coolmores, Godolphins, Cheveley Parks, Niarchos families and Moyglares of this world, among many others. That’s the level we want to be competing at. To do that you need those big foundation families, and that’s been our process in the last few years.” 

Al Shira’aa’s results so far reflect a judicious approach to shopping at the sales, with Mutamakina picked up at a cost of 100,000gns, Jannah Flower was a €400,000 yearling while Rumi was slightly pricier at €700,000. The last two sales seasons have seen Al Shira’aa ramp up their investment in blue-blooded fillies. 

In 2021 Lalor signed for seven yearlings, with considerable sums spent on siblings to the likes of Bolshoi Ballet, Broome, Mother Earth, Poetic Flare and Waldgeist. That continued this year with six more acquisitions including siblings to Going Global, Native Trail and the operation’s own Rumi. Although buying into such blood does not come cheap, Lalor says the strategy is focussed on long-term rewards rather than immediate gains. 

“Prior to last year there’d been more of a focus on physicals as we were more racing orientated,” he says. “But we want to have those deep foundation families as well as current activity up the top under the first dam, especially now as we expand on our breeding operations. When these horses don’t work out [on the track] for whatever reason, it’s nice to have a really good family to fall back on and have some belief that your mare can reproduce a good horse for you.

“If you don’t see Group 1 on the page, then should you really be expecting it from the animal? Now in the broad scheme that can happen for sure, but you can have a lot more confidence when some of the many variables are removed. If you see Group 1, Group 1, Group 1 throughout the pedigree, sometimes it can jump a generation but it generally comes back again. One only needs to look at those great mares Coolmore and Juddmonte have, for example, and how they keep reproducing the goods.” 

Digging deeper into the buying process, Lalor says: “After I’ve got a shortlist together the boss and I will review each lot’s pedigree, bloodlines, photos and videos. The boss will decide which ones we should focus on and from there we will put a value on each for what they could be to our programme and what the market may have them at. John Hanly, our vet, then will review the nuts and bolts of the horse and from there hopefully we land on a couple.”

Mutamakina: carried the Al Shira’aa colours to Grade 1 success. Photo – APRH

The most expensive lot that Al Shira’aa landed on in 2021 was the Dubawi half-sister to Waldgeist who fetched 1,250,000gns. Lalor stresses that there is not an open cheque book come sales season, but explains that the strategy requires a balance between discipline and knowing when to seize the moment of opportunity. 

“The boss is very much focussed on quality over quantity and she knows exactly what she wants,” he says. “We’ll stay disciplined, although every now and then a filly like the Dubawi last year will come along and we’ll certainly stretch for the important ones.” 

Discipline must also be applied to the numbers Al Shira’aa keeps, and this means that some of their homebred yearlings will be brought to market when circumstances dictate. Lalor says public auction offerings are decided on a case by case basis, with Baroda Stud handling consigning duties. “David [Cox] and Tamso [Doyle] run a top-class outfit and have a great team at Baroda,” he says. 

“The idea is to keep the fillies, but if there’s a lot we’ll sell some as we don’t need to have too many daughters out of each mare. We sell most of our colts but in time we’ll race more of them and go to the marketplace for colts too. It’s just as important to us to try to hit the high notes with colts, but our focus at this early stage is to get a core group of good race fillies with good families together.” 

Time will tell whether Al Shira’aa’s more recent purchases will bear fruit, but confidence in their approach can be taken from the fact last year’s investments have already produced green shoots of promise. Ocean Jewel, the €230,000 Sioux Nation half-sister to Mother Earth, opened her account at the second attempt and rounded off her first season by running second in the Listed Blenheim Stakes. 

In France, Saadiyat, the 475,000gns Lope De Vega half-sister to Broome and Point Lonsdale, and Liwa Oasis, a 260,000gns buy by the same sire and out of a sister Japan and Mogul, both showed abundant promise when second and fourth respectively in a warm-looking Saint-Cloud maiden. The Frankel filly Jannah Rose, a €650,000 three-parts sister to Creggs Pipes, looked to have a bright future as she overcame inexperience to make a winning debut at Chantilly and arguably rates the most exciting of the lot. 

“Jannah Rose, as green as she was, managed to do what she did and so you’d always have dreams that a filly like her could be an Oaks or a Prix de Diane contender,” says Lalor. “Obviously there’s a lot of hoops to get through before we get to that stage but she’s going to gain a lot of experience from that race and you’d have big dreams for a filly like her for sure.”

Although the siblings to Waldgeist and Poetic Flare did not run at two, Lalor says both retain all of their potential, adding: “The Dubawi is with Pascal Bary in Chantilly. She’s doing really well and training great. She’s grown a lot and needs to mature a bit more so I’d say she’ll start in the springtime of next year. 

“I felt Poetic Flare’s sister was quite set at Goffs but I was wrong. She’s grown a lot since, she’s nearly 16 hands now and is a big, strong, scopey filly, so we stopped on her last week. Herself and Ocean Jewel will get the winter off at the farm and both will go back to Willie McCreery around the middle of January.” 

He continues: “It’s exciting to have fillies from the same family as Poetic Flare, Mother Earth, Waldgeist and Broome to name a few. They were tough and sound competitors at the top level in so many of the big races we all want to win. They’re all very current as well, so we were lucky to be able to get them. You just never know when fillies from these types of families will come to the marketplace.” 

A lot of moving parts need to align to succeed at the level Al Shira’aa aspires to compete, and the importance of land, facilities and staff cannot be overstated. In Meadow Court Stud, Al Shira’aa has a revitalised and purpose built base. “In 2018 we reconstructed the whole place then gave it a year off so the land could recover,” explains Lalor. 

“Meadow Court is 225 acres now and we like to have a lot of land for the animals, so we keep 20 mares at the farm, and we do all the foaling from here too. All of the yearlings we’ve purchased are back here now with a few of our homebreds. They’ll get a couple of months out together before they head off to Ian McCarthy for breaking and pre-training. The sales can be quite stressful on some of them so we prefer to get them back to the farm first and out to Dr Green for a few months before the real work begins.

“It’s a beautiful boutique stud managed by a small team of very passionate people who show up every day with the horses’ health and wellbeing as their primary focus. It makes my job much easier when you know the stud and its residents are in safe hands every time I leave for racing or sales.” 

Of course having well-bred mares is only half the challenge when it comes to breeding Group 1 performers, so Al Shira’aa is aiming to light the touch paper of its blue-chip pedigrees by zapping them with sire power. 

Among the stud’s permanent residents are mares such as Lady In Lights, a Dansili half-sister to Magna Grecia and St Mark’s Basilica who visited Kingman earlier this year, where she was joined by another mare in Flaming Rouge. Sicilia, a daughter of Kingman out of a sister to Footstepsinthesand, is in foal to Frankel. 

“We just don’t have enough mares to spread around all of the top stallions, but the goal is to be able to support the likes of Sea The Stars, Kingman, Lope De Vega, Frankel, Dubawi, No Nay Never, Siyouni and Wootton Bassett among others each year,” says Lalor. “It takes a lot of time, a lot of investment and a lot of patience to get where we want to go.” 

In 2023 Al Shira’aa will have between 20 and 23 horses in training split between Ger Lyons and Willie McCreery in Ireland, Pascal Bary and Carlos Laffon-Parias in France and Neil Drysdale and Christophe Clement in the US. Seven of those will be homebreds. Although Al Shira’aa doesn’t currently have horses in Britain, Lalor says he expects the operation to be represented there in due course.

“Our long-term plan is to expand slowly but surely and in a responsible manner,” he says. “We’re not going to go out and buy 20 or 30 horses every year, we’ll keep it select to horses we’re confident will be good enough at the end of their career to retire to our broodmare band. With all that comes more land and more trainers and new jurisdictions like Britain.”

Looking ahead to 2023, Lalor says: “It’s hard to gauge the excitement level, especially when I go through all of these pedigrees or go see the racehorses each month, but so far it’s all positive and we just need luck to go our way. It’s very exciting that these fillies will come back to the farm and we’ll be able to breed from those families. It keeps the dream alive that we’ll get up there and consistently compete in the big races on those Saturdays and Sundays. Lofty goals, absolutely, but you have to have them, especially in this business.”

This yearling half-sister to Waldgeist was one of the choicely bred fillies added to Al Shiraa’aa. Photo – Tattersalls