French horse master Joel Proust poses for a picture next to horses during a training session.
Horse master Joel Proust hopes his stallions will soon return to the movie sets in Morocco that made his name, ranging from Hollywood epics to "Game of Thrones".
The North African nation's dramatic desert sands and palm-filled valleys traversed by camel herds have long provided stand-ins for big-budget film sets needing Middle East locations, but coronavirus restrictions have hit the industry hard.
Last year was "difficult", Proust said, at an equestrian centre on the outskirts of Marrakesh, where the thundering of hooves announces the sudden arrival of a herd.
The horses -- including Arab-Barbs, Friesians and Spanish purebreds -- gallop, trot and play dead as they follow their instructor.
The 65-year-old Frenchman has for four decades choreographed equestrian action scenes for some of the biggest movies shot in Morocco.
They include Oliver Stone's swashbuckling "Alexander" in 2004, and Ridley Scott's Crusade-epic "Kingdom of Heaven" in 2005.
Proust has fond memories of Stephen Sommers' Egyptian horror fantasy "The Mummy" in 1999, which saw "200 horses galloping at full speed".
But amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Morocco's borders remain closed to 54 countries, including Britain and France, until at least June 10, according to the civil aviation authority.
Mother of Dragons
Since the 1950s, Morocco has welcomed international filmmakers, from Alfred Hitchcock to Pier Paolo Pasolini and Orson Welles.
Proust arrived in the kingdom in the early 1980s as an equestrian instructor, and began his career as a stuntman not long after.
'Hanging in there'
Morocco has sought to attract big international productions in recent years by capitalising on its diverse natural landscapes and providing financial incentives.
But as the pandemic squeezed the global film industry, Morocco took a hit.
Filming for "The Alchemist" is planned for mid-July said Proust, who is preparing horses and dromedaries for caravan and battle scenes.
Now an 8-year-old, after 20 starts he has won just once, his final appearance in his native France, over 1,700m on turf, in July 2018. He joined Mohd Ramadan, making a very pleasing local debut in a conditions race over the same 2,000m as Friday’s race.
The Abu Dhabi turf played host to six races on Sunday and UAE champion Jockey Tadhg O’Shea landed four consecutive races for a memorable four-timer, including doubles for both Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda and Ernst Oertel.
Racing at Meydan on Thursday features a Stakes race apiece for both the Purebred Arabians and the Thoroughbreds, the latter, the Listed Dubai Creek Mile the most valuable race on the card and attracting a field of 11, including last year’s winner, Thegreatcollection.
Over 1200m on dirt, the surface on which the whole card was staged due to issues with the turf track caused by inclement weather, it was contested by a select sextet but, having raced in the rear, O’Shea took aim at the other five leaving the home turn and found a willing partner.
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