A JET black helicopter pierced through the grey clouds over Manister last Friday morning but didn’t land immediately.
It flew around in a wide circle. The young man inside, Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, was surveying what he had bought over a year ago for €1,050,000 - 102.7 acres of prime Limerick land.
Far away cattle gazed disinterestedly at the strange moving object in the sky before returning to chewing the cud. But Sheikh Fahad was picturing a different four legged animal eating the lush grass - horses.
The 25-year-old is a son of the former prime minister and first cousin to the Emir of Qatar, which has been ruled by the Al Thani family since the mid-19th century. Forbes magazine has named Qatar the world’s richest country. Sheikh Fahad is director of QIPCO - one of the world’s leading private investment companies. His personal wealth is unknown but it is safe to say he is not short a few bob.
Qatar Racing - formed in 2011 by Sheikh Fahad and his brothers Sheikh Hamad and Sheikh Suhaim - has quickly become a rival to the more traditional names of Coolmore and Godolphin.
It is a global operation and its latest arm is in county Limerick.
Building is to commence in December on Qatar Bloodstock Ireland’s new state-of-the-art stable yard in Spring Lodge, Manister as part of their multi-million euro investment in County Limerick. More could be to come.
Sheikh Fahad paid his first visit last week. The helicopter was met by Peter Molony - Irish representative of Qatar Racing, owner of neighbouring Rathmore Stud and manager of Spring Lodge. He brought him on a whistle stop tour of his purchase.
Meanwhile, this reporter was box walking in the beautiful house for stable workers.
Would burly bodyguards tell me to hop it like Sheikh Fahad hopped from the helicopter? Would a PR person demand written questions and they would consider it in two months?
None of the above. A smiling Sheikh Fahad enters the door, shakes hands and sits down at the kitchen table. The only person with him was David Redvers, who manages Qatar Racing and Pearl Racing on behalf of the Al Thani family.
After a quick discussion about a possible purchase in the Goffs catalogue - they were in Ireland for the November breeding stock sale - the dictaphone was turned on.
“Yes, It is very impressive. The land looks great, the spot looks nice. It is nice and quiet, it is good for the mares here so I am very happy,” said Sheikh Fahad.
The amount of vehicles passing on the road in an hour could be counted on two hands. The only faint sound on the breeze is children playing at break-time in Manister National School.
The plan is that Spring Lodge will be for breeding and raising young stock.
“I bought the farm to keep a few mares and foals down here, Irish ones. It looks like a perfect spot to be honest.
“We are going to build a few stables here and barns. I believe this part of the world, the land is one of the best lands to raise race horses, that is why we bought the place and we are going to raise a few of our race horses down here,” said Sheikh Fahad.
Once the work is complete in 2015 there will be room for up to 40 horses, Why Limerick?
“England is our base and we have grown plenty enough that we needed a new outlet, Ireland was the next real option. I looked around and Peter Molony lives across the road. He manages all our Irish racing and anything to do with bloodstock in Ireland he manages.
“It was really logical to have something close by to him. The land is one of the best around in Ireland, this place came up at auction and it was the perfect fit.”
Sheikh Fahad has had six individual group one winners this year between America, Australia, England and France.
Is the plan to have a horse bred, born and raised in Limerick to add to that tally in the future?
“Of course, oh definitely, that is the point really. We are going to raise race horses here because I believe the ground here is one of the best grounds to raise horses so it would be fantastic to breed and raise a grade one winner from Limerick, it would be fantastic. It would be a great pleasure to have,” said Sheikh Fahad, whose first major win was with Dunaden in the Melbourne Cup in 2011.
Qatar Racing is building a global breeding operation to take on the aforementioned Godolphins and Coolmores and his Limerick stud farm has an important role to play in that.
“We are here to compete at the top level and to compete at the top level you have to have the top assets in every part of it, and one of the assets we need is good land and Limerick hopefully is going to be a big part of it.
“The farm in Limerick, this is where they are going to be bred so hopefully it is going to be very important. We race around the world so a Limerick bred horse might be racing in England or America or Australia, wherever in the world. That is the dream really,” said Sheikh Fahad.
With such high hopes for the area could there be further investment in Limerick?
“Yeah, you ever know, I just bought your place Peter,” he joked.
“Definitely, who knows. I can’t say yes or no at the moment but if the need is there, yeah, definitely. We take small steps and we see where we go.”
As the mist descends outside after a heavy shower I enquire about the Irish weather.
“I am used to it, between London and here it is the same thing. I don’t mind the cold to be honest I am sure it will be nicer in the spring time and summer time.” This reporter informed him that that might not necessarily be the case!
“The best time to look at things is in the worst weather that is what I have been told,” he laughed before adding. “I am very happy with it, it is great”.
After some ribbing about whether Peter would follow in Richard Hannon’s footsteps and run a marathon with Sheikh Fahad it was back to the business of looking at plans for the stable yard. Sheikh Fahad was effusive in his praise of the land in Manister and Peter explains that it is down to limestone bedrock.
“It just puts great bone on horses and gives them a great start in life,” he said. This is shown by the number of stud farms producing top class horses in the area.
The son of legendary National Hunt jockey, Martin. says he is happy with how the visit went.
“It was his first time there, first time seeing it. You can describe it and show them pictures all you like but it is only when he gets to see if for himself and sees what is there,” said Peter, who describes Sheikh Fahad as a “lovely, lovely guy”.
Indeed, despite his riches that are beyond the imagination of the common man he was as humble and helpful as the old man cycling down the road who gave me directions to Spring Lodge.
Limerick is known as being a dairy county and Con Houlihan’s quote springs to mind ,”If the cow is the farmer’s wife, then the horse is his mistress”.
There are some supermodels coming to Manister.