News: Soldiers Receive Royal Treatment At Races
Story by Jason Chudy
DOHA, Qatar – Soldiers of Area Support Group - Qatar literally received ‘royal treatment’ at the Doha Racing and Equestrian Club Thursday, Nov. 18, after being invited to watch that night’s races in the track’s Royal Lounge.
The dozen soldiers were hosted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Faleh al-Thani, member of the Qatari royal family and club director.
“We're being treated as VIPs,” said Spc. Nathanael Morrison of Las Cruces, N.M., Camp As Sayliyah’s chief paralegal. “We’re in the royal lounge; that’s exclusive. This is a great way to spend an evening in Qatar. I love it.”
After a buffet dinner, the soldiers settled back in the outdoor lounge balcony to watch the evening’s eight races. “Horse racing is in our culture,” said al-Thani between races. “All Qatari people like the traditional things like horses, camels and falcons.
“This is one of the first hobbies we had here in Qatar,” he said, explaining how the early Qataris went from racing Arabian horses in the open desert to stadiums like the Racing and Equestrian Club.
“This was one of the first tracks in the [Persian] Gulf,” said al-Thani. Opened in the 1960s and renovated a number of times since, races are held between October and mid-May at the track.
Al-Thani said that in addition to the turf track, the club also has stables for about 1,000 horses. Stables were visible from the lounge balcony, which was centered on the finish line, giving the soldiers a good look at the final seconds of the races.
“This is my first time at the races,” said Spc. Caitlin Butterfield of Bothell, Wash., who works in the area support group’s orderly room. “I’m impressed at the size of the track.”
Butterfield sat next to Spc. Lakesha Davis-Moore of New York City in the back row of the balcony, which was about two-thirds full between the soldiers, horse owners and a few other guests.
“It’s never happened where we’ve just been asked to come and not do anything,” Davis-Moore said. “We’re here to enjoy!”
Hugs and traditional kisses on the cheeks were given to victorious owners by others in attendance, and the racing spirit wasn’t lost on the soldiers. As the horses rounded the final turn for the straightaway on the final turn, a handful of them called out the number of their favorites.
“That was a great race,” said Morrison, who cheered on his chosen horse in race six, which literally ended in a photo finish – so close, in fact, that even on the big-screen display it looked like the horses’ noses crossed at the exact same moment.
“That’s what it was all about,” he said. “I was on the edge of my seat.”