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11/9 the right odds for up and coming Al Alawi

Author: Duane Fonseca


The trainer Helal Al Alawi is perhaps oblivious of the significance the date 9 November has in his life. For him, it is perhaps as regular a day as he can imagine. “What’s so special about November 9, I have been winning around UAE Flag Day for a while now?” he asked, blissfully unaware that he has won whenever he has saddled runners on a, whatever dating protocol you follow, 9/11 or 11/9 dated card. There haven’t been many: just three since he started competing and Helal has featured among the winners on two occasions.

In his rookie season in 2013/14, on 9 November at Sharjah, he saddled a double, including what was his first ever career win when Rafeef came home first in an Arabian maiden. A year later, on the same day, he was forced to withdraw Kanjani from the Prestige HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies (IFAHR) World Championship race on the Abu Dhabi card. Kanjani was due to be his only runner of the night and who knows what would have happened had he run. More recently, however, as Meydan opened its doors to the new season on 9 November, Helal weighed in again with Rothenburg comfortably claiming his maiden under Pat Cosgrave.

While those series of events are inexplicable and can be passed off as mere coincidence, the 11 wins he has produced so far this season are all down to the hard work and dedication put in by him and his staff behind the scenes at National Stables. “Success is a direct result of hard work; you work hard you get the right results along with it as reward. Of course you need a bit of luck too, but you have to do your bit and do it well and that’s what we have been doing with the horses at our stables,” says the 37yo Emirati handler. It is a just reward Helal has received so far as he finds himself sharing the summit in the Trainers’ Championship alongside Doug Watson who has as many wins, the American only edging him on the basis of much superior figures in the prize money column.

Undeterred, Helal is looking to make 2017/18 his best season to date and in terms of percentages he is sharper than any of his contemporaries, including the multiple Champion Trainer Watson. “We have some very good horses in the stable this season and that makes things easier because every trainer needs good horses to win races and ultimately keep them in the position from where they can fight for the Trainers’ Championship,” said Helal, whose biggest win so far has been the Group 3 Arabian Triple Crown Round 3 success with the eccentric Sniper De Monlau. “All you have to do is make sure the horses are safe and healthy, then keep winning one race at a time. If we can do what we have been doing so far, I think we have a very good chance of winning the title.

“We had 23 winners and 23 seconds last season and I am trying to beat that. Our targets are bigger every year and I want to beat that figure this season.” Raise the bar time and again is certainly the right thing to do and Helal knows how to handle the inevitable pressure that goes along with it. Being an owner turned trainer should help. “There is pressure involved but I have been on both sides so know what it is to own and how you come to expect your horse to win, thus I understand the pressure that comes with the job,” he said. Helal started out as an owner in 2000, but curiosity led him to try his hand out at training and he started out assisting Emirati handler Majed Al Jahouri. Later, he served as deputy to Tony Manuel before deciding to acquire his licence and moving forward on his own.

“I owned horses and used to race, but I also wanted to know how they were trained and so I started working with Majed Al Jahouri, then Tony Manuel before going by myself,” Helal added. 

It’s been a good ride so far with the wins and prize money both increasing season after season. Last term, was the best of the four he has had so far. He won 23 races, three more than the previous term and nearly doubled his prize money from Dhs1.9million to Dhs3.2m. With his ambition growing, Helal is now also dreaming of making an impact as a Thoroughbred trainer. Last season, 19 of his 23 wins were achieved on the backs of Purebred Arabians. However, this term, Thoroughbreds have already contributed three in his total of 11.

“Yeah I want to do that and I am. I like working with Arabian horses too and I will continue, but my focus now is definitely more on Thoroughbreds and I really want to achieve more success with them,” he said. “We have about 50 horses in training at the stables, of which there aren’t many Thoroughbreds, maybe 14 or 15. I started training Thoroughbred horses last season and somehow they are even more exciting for me right now than Arabians. I love the way they move, the way they gallop and race and we have increased more Thoroughbred horses in the stable this season so hopefully we will do better with them.”

While Shillong brought Helal his first Thoroughbred success of the season at Jebel Ali, Rothenburg turned up well on his first career start and won his maiden quite comfortably at Meydan. However, the pick of his runners so far has to be the former Godolphin runner Sea Skimmer, who was bought in the September sale at Meydan by the Al Alawi Racing Syndicate and powered through to a four length win on his opening UAE run at Jebel Ali. “We started to buy in the Godolphin sale a long time back as horses with good pedigree are sold there and have gone on to do well. They are always selling good horses,” he said.

“We have two very special horses in the stable this year: Sea Skimmer and Rothenburg. We have run them both at short distances, but they are milers and we are trying to get them a better rating so that they are able to compete in the Dubai World Cup Carnival races. I definitely think they are Carnival horses. I would have loved to give them longer breaks, but I have to push. They have both been training and performing well, so I am happy.” Watching the next generation of Al Alawi’s show an affinity for the sport is something that makes Helal happy and proud. “My younger son Nasser, has taken up riding and competed in the Sheikh Mansoor Festival’s ponies race in Abu Dhabi earlier this month, while my other son Tahnoun is interested in training horses,” he said. While his kids will find their own way, Helal must right now negotiate a way to fuel his own lofty ambitions.

“I always start the season thinking about winning and with things having gone so well so far I am looking forward to staying at the top. I want to win the Trainers’ Championship and I will keep trying until I can achieve that,” he said. “It’s not easy to fight for championships here because there are some very good owners and trainers involved, but I believe in giving anything your very best. That’s what I have always done and will fight to the end.” That would be ideal for all those watching proceedings of the next few months.

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07 Aug 2018
Issue Number: Issue 647
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Dubai playing a key role in British racing, says Jockey Club boss
Busybody Tadhg looks to scale mountains after climbing Hills
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