By Joe Achcar
Posted on December 22nd, 2010 in General
The Beirut, Lebanon, race track built in 1910 was a rare piece of Levantine-Florentine architecture that was destroyed in 1982. The Baghdad, Iraq, race track was built in 1920. When the Bagdad racetrack was closed due to political upheavals in Iraq, horse racing in Beirut flourished. Many of the Iraqi racehorse owners began racing their horses in Beirut, where they spent the hot summer months.
Iraqi horses began to come to Beirut in the end of the 1940’s. These horses were often from a different type than the desert Syrian horses who until then were a majority at the Beirut racetrack and the Iraqis began to win nearly every race. In 1953, Gilbert Asseily, the well-known journalist in charge of the horse racing section of the French speaking news paper “L’Orient” wrote an article with the title “Why Iraqi horses are beating our horses”, where he said: “these horses are from the progeny of the Anglo Arab “Tabib” and I suggest that they run in separate races”. Of course, nobody took his advice seriously and the Iraqi horse invasion amplified after 1958 when the new Iraqi military leader Abdul Karim Kassem closed the Baghdad racetrack.
When in 1987 the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture, followed in 1990 by the Lebanese SPARCA (under General Salim Al Dahdah) compiled the pure Arab horse stud book for submission to WAHO, there was not one single descendant of any Iraqi horse in either studbook, mainly because both the Syrians and Lebanese believed that Iraqi racehorses had a doubtful origin and were not asil Arabians.
In the late 1990s, the Iraqi Arabian Horse Association issued its first WAHO approved studbook composed of Iraqi Arabs in addition to some 100 mares and 7 stallions of Crabbet bloodlines imported from England. In browsing the pedigrees of the local Iraqi horses registered in that studbook one can fiund dozens of “Tabib’s” progeny listed as pure Arab horses. In that book Tabib is called “Dahman Amer d.b”.
There are two version on Tabib’s origin; the Lebanese/Syrian version and the Iraqi version. On the Lebanese/Syrian version:
In 1998, I wrote an article in Arabic on the “Bedouin horse, an endangered species in its own land”. One of the main reasons for this being the descendants of “Tabib” and their influence. While writing this material I had the chance to interview two friends of mine, two old gentlemen who spent all their life at the Beirut hippodrome, racing horses for nearly 60 years: the late Elias Murad and Khalil Bey Haidar who is now in his 90s. Both told the same story about “Tabib’s”: he was a grey horse originating from Cyprus; one told me that he was an Anglo Arab while the second told me that he was a full English Thouroughbred. The horse raced and won twice in Beirut in the 1930s, was rejected by the Lebanese/French classification committee and was prevented from racing again. His owner took him to Syria, namely to the Tell Kalakh region, at the Lebanese/Syrian border famous for horse breeding (Gen. Fadlallah El Haddad the stallion O’bajan from there for the Babolna stud). There he was taken by the Iraqis to Baghdad and raced under the name of “Al Souri” or “The Syrian”.
My friend Dr. Mohamed el Nujaifi of Iraq wrote a book on “The Iraqi Arab horse” in 2005. It is a valuable source of information on the origin of the old Iraqi Arab horses, theirs tribe of origin and their influence mainly on the modern Turkish Arab horses. The book contains the Iraqi version of the origin of the stallion “Tabib” a.k.a “Al Souri”.
According to this version, the horse originated from the Bani Sakhr tribe of Jordan and given as a gift by the Emir Abdallah of Jordan (the future King Abdallah I of Jordan) to Saad el Dine Pasha Shatila, a very wealthy businessman and amateur of Arab horses. The Pasha wanted the horse to race in India, so he send him to Iraq to get a passport issued for him by Iraqi racing authorites. This was the only way to an Arab horse to enter India at that time, as both countries were under British rule then.
In Iraq the horse was accepted by the very strict classification committee headed by Major Chadwick the horse raced at the Baghdad track and won two races, then he had a hoof problem and was put to stud. At horse he did not attracted many mares first because he was not a well known Iraqi horse, and second as a winner of only two ordinary races his racing record was a bit weak. The Pasha Shatila then visited Baghdad and informed the Iraqi breeders of the horse’s status as a present of King Abdallah of Joradn and the Iraqi breeders started using him more intensively.
Dr Nujaifi’s argument in defense of the horse is mainly based on the ordinary racing times recorded by “Tabib’s” progeny on the Baghdad track. He believes that if this horse was an Anglo-Arab or a English Thoroughbred his racing abilities should have been better to other Iraqi horses.
Below is a 1986 photo of the stallion Kamel, from the sire line of Tabib. His damline is Hamdani Simri, and he is held by Usama al-Nujaifi. Usama al-Nujaifi is today the Speaker of the Iraqi House of Representatives.