SHINING THE SPOTLIGHT ON….  The heart of Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda’s racing operation


SHINING THE SPOTLIGHT ON…. The heart of Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda’s racing operation

Outperforming the Godolphin operation in Dubai is an achievement in itself. It’s a milestone which Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda is on the cusp of reaching thanks to the results obtained by a string comprised exclusively of Purebred Arabians. His colours have also enjoyed a second success in the Dubai Kahayla Classic, and here he explains the reasons behind his success.

Racing in Dubai turned professional in1992, when Nad Al Sheba racecourse was built and the Dubai Racing Club was set up, pre dating the World Cup meeting by four years.The 1993-94 season followed a similar pattern, though he was not so successful in the ensuing campaigns.

. In the 1992-93 season, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda was ranked 30th in the owners’ list after his 23 runners won three races. The 1993-94 season followed a similar pattern before the results took a turn for the worse in the ensuing campaigns. He achieved a top 20 finish in the 2004-2005 season after his 35 runners netted five wins.

However, ever since the 2009-2010 season but, with the exception of the 2014-2015 campaign, he has always been in the top ten. He was top owner in 2016-2017 and is on the verge of securing a second title, as this concern currently top the provisional rankings. It will marks the first time that an owner, other than a sheikh, has achieved this accolade. Some will no doubt reason that it is the sheer weight of numbers which determines success in racing. During the course of the last four seasons, when he has oscillated between first and third in the rankings, there’s no escaping that his number of horses have increased. The stats show that the owner’s exclusively Purebred Arabian string have won 53 races from a total of 375 runners to date this season. The owner-breeder explained: "Many are of the opinion that my success is down to sheer numbers. Yet, breeding a large number of horses, isn’t itself a guarantee of success. I learned through my own mistakes as there was no guiding hand to show me the way. A mastery of pedigrees is called as is the knowledge on how to rear horses and feed them… all of which represents something of a challenge and particularly in this country. It ensures that achieving victory is all the more harder."

A team geared towards victory. Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda never misses an opportunity when it comes to singing the praises of his team. His main trainer is the South African Ernst Oertel and the majority of his winners are ridden by the Irish jockey Tadhg O’Shea – and both top their respective divisions in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Ernst Oertel trains from Desert Stables, near Meydan, in the very heart of Dubai. He uses the same facilities as the champion trainer Doug Watson. Ernst Oertel is on the verge of snaring a third trainers’ championship in the wake of his 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 titles, when he was the guiding light of Al Asayl Stables. It’s an impressive record, taking into account that he had a leg amputated after falling from a horse in 2013. Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda added: "The aim of any breeder is to see his horses racing. The trainer and his team are then entrusted with looking after the horses. I avoid putting pressure on the trainer or the jockey. Tadhg rides the horses in the mornings and, when we have a number of runners in a race, he is able to give feedback to the other riders and it’s very positive. It helps the horse and everyone benefits." Ernst Oertel said of the owner: "My working relationship with Khalid began three years ago. Our relationship is very good. I’ve known him for almost 30 years. We started out with 25 to 30 horses and, from this base, this number has increased to over 70. After losing my job with Al Asayl, I asked him if he wanted to send me a few horses. He did so, fully aware that I was training for other owners at the same time. He’s a great guy. Granted the scenario of a weekend when results don’t come up to scratch, he never complains and remains upbeat. He knows that I’m doing my best and never seeks to crank up the pressure. Irrespective of whether it is a big or small race, we are doing our very best – even if a win at Meydan has added kudos. He’s never happier than when his own horses win as it is reflects the success of his breeding operation. Everything is done with the horses welfare in mind. There’s never any problem when it comes to horses which need time. We never push them. I had a very good job at Al Asayl but my current post presents an exceptional opportunity. When visiting the stable for the first time, Frank Gabriel [notes to editors: the Chief Executive of the Dubai Racing Club] asked me: "Do you think you will succeed? He has a sizeable quantity of horses which are homebreds". He felt that I wasn’t going to hang about for long. However, I was intent on proving to others that they were wrong on this score. Khalid is passionate about his horses being successful and, above all, his UAE-breds." His current role follows on from that of his previous one at Al Asayl where he was already working in tandem with Tadhg O’Shea. The trainer added: "Tadhg has an affinity with Purebred Arabians and is a good jockey. I’m also of the mind that his success rate on English thoroughbreds is the best among the jockeys riding on the UAE circuit. No other rider has reached the UAE 500-winner mark as quickly as him. It’s hard to fathom why he isn’t more in demand with other trainers.

Tadhg works for Satish Seemar and rides out here once a week. He puts 30 horses through their paces and never complains. He is familiar with the way I work my horses and what is required of him. Antonio Fresu is also a good jockey. Working with a good jockey can make a difference as they enable horses to progress in the morning and in the afternoon."

The facilities on offer. Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda is a strong advocate of pre-training. This activity was entrusted, together with the breeding operation, to the care of Karl OERTEL, the trainer’s brother, two years ago. Once the younger stock have been broken-in, and to a degree conditioned, they are then sent to Desert Stables where the rest of their education is completed. Ernst Oertel outlined: "I’ve three treadmills on site and we make a lot of use of them during the summer when it is hot. The horses are ridden until the middle of May. After that, we make use of the horse walker and the treadmill, followed by the equine swimming pool at Meydan. The gallops reopen in August. We can also make use of our paddocks. His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum has given Khalid a new yard as a gift, which comes complete with a small-scale training facility for working horses. That should enable us to begin working the horses again towards the end of June when they will be jogging and cantering. I need a period of 120-days to condition a horse. They really need this amount of time. However, once they have reached concert pitch, we don’t tend to work them a great deal between races."

The Kahayla Classic. In his capacity as an owner-breeder, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda regards the Dubai Kahayla Classic as the world’s top PA race. He has a healthy regard for the standard of opposition and considers it an honour that two of his horses, AF Maher (AF Al Buraq) and AF Al Sajanjle (AF Al Buraq), were invited to contest this race. Ernst Oertel recalls Tadhg O’Shea telling him following the victory of AF Maher in a top flight handicap at Sharjah in November: "I think that he’s our best horse." After this big win, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda opined: "AF Maher proved that horses bred in Dubai can be competitive and are capable of winning the world’s top races. The win of AF Maher, as in the case of AF Mathmoon before him, made me particularly proud as, beyond merely meeting expectation levels, they were achieved in front of a global audience. Bringing a horse of the quality of AF Maher into the world demands patience and a leap of faith in the planning process. He has been the object of close scrutiny in all quarters because of where he came from, and his consistency has been remarkable and exemplary. AF Maher proved to be both precocious and a very hardy type, one capable of beating the elite. We were very upbeat about his chances before the race and the horse proved that we were right to be confident in his ability."

Nursing European ambitions. Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda would like to send a handful of his Purebred Arabians to race in Europe this year. However, this project has been put on ice until 2020 as Ernst Oertel requires medical treatment to his leg. Furthermore, he still needs to source a European base which meets all his needs. The owner explained: "We will be targeting races in Europe as a whole and not just French ones. My French facilities include a training track but it isn’t suitable for fast workouts. European races are very tough contests. Going abroad means that you are not only representing your own interests, but also flying the flag for Emirati breeding. The horses need to prove their quality and strength. You must send your best horses  overseas as the standard in France and Europe is high, and particularly in the top races." Ernst OERTEL boasts past experience of working at Newmarket and he added: "Versatile horses are needed in Europe. We didn’t previously have these types in our yard as our horses tend to need time. I’m of the opinion that the UAE-born horses are more backward. An exceptional three-year-old is required to beat the French competition. However, as our horses get older, they make up the leeway. Even at the age of five, our horses can still be on the backward side. However, if you take care of their well-being, you have a good basis from which to work. His Highness Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan racing programme seems to be geared towards providing opportunities for horses of a wide range of abilities. I’m of the mind that a raiding party of five to ten horses, and no more than that, would need assembling to test the waters. The Dubai International Arabian races should also be a target as Khalid is intent on supporting the initiatives of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan."

The 2019-2020 season. Regarding the UAE scene, Ernst Oertel is very upbeat about the future assignments of AF Maher and AF Al Sajanjle. He hopes to receive an invitation for the Jewel Crown (Gr1 PA) in November. He opined that 1,600m is AF Al Sajanjle’s optimum trip. The handler added that he is still getting to the bottom of AF Maher, as The Kahayla Classic was only his charge’s second start over 2,000m. The handler stressed that he wasn’t certain beforehand of his charge’s ability to see out the trip, as his horse has tended to show plenty of early dash. Many of his leading hopes are due to visit the racecourse, and chief among them is AF Mouthirah (AF Al Buraq). He said: "The four-year-old comes from a good family and is a very promising type." The filly won the Abu Dhabi Fillies’ Classic (1,400m) on her debut, before following up in the Emirates Fillies’ Classic over a mile. However, her subsequent attempt over 2,200m in the third leg of Triple Crown proved to be a bridge too far on only her third career start. Her dam, AF Kalrami (Ouragan du Cayrou), is herself a daughter of a Saudi Arabian mare. Al Nabooda, Oertel and O’Shea are expected to be respectively crowned top owner, trainer and jockey at the end of the UAE 2018-2019 season. The next act of this racing show now switches to Europe. Following his win in the Dubai World Cup, the Emerald Isle rider O’Shea said: "Winning the Kahayla Classic aboard this horse was fantastic. I’m really delighted for Ernst as he is a very talented trainer. However, he’s above all a grafter. It’s also a question of Khalid being able to live the dream in my first season as the stable’s number one rider. AF Mathmoon captured this race in colours of Sheikh Hamdan in 2016. Winning such a prestige race in the ‘Khalid’ colours was a big moment. He really deserves his success, granted all that he has put into the sport. I’m happy and lucky enough to be his jockey. I’m a small cog in what is a very big team wheel."