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Q & A with Dhruba Selvaratnam

Author: Mohamed Taha

28/10/2016
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Dhruba Selvaratnam, master of Jebel Ali Stables, is one of the ultimate professionals of the racing game and arguably the longest serving trainer in the UAE. He has also made a name for himself as ‘Master of Sprints’, including winning the Nad Al Sheba Sprint, now known as World Cup night’s Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen, on three occasions in the easily recognisable yellow silks of his patron HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Dhruba, who has landed the UAE trainers’ championship title on four occasions, still holds the record for saddling most winners in a single season with 67, a mark he achieved in the 1998/99 season.

Last season was his best for many years, with five wins at the Dubai World Cup Carnival, including the UAE 2000 Guineas and Al Bastakiya, besides landing Abu Dhabi’s National Day Cup and the Jebel Ali Sprint on his home course.

Mohd Taha caught up with Dhruba to find out how things are shaping up at Jebel Ali Stables ahead of the new season.

MT: It is obvious you get a lot of backing and support from HH Sheikh Ahmed, who proved very loyal to you over the years. What do you say in this respect?

DS: I have been very fortunate to have HH Sheikh Ahmed as a patron and employer for the past 26 years. To train horses for a non-interfering and passionate owner like him, is a trainer’s dream. He has always been ‘hands on’ and any suggestions he would make, would be done diplomatically.

It goes without saying Jebel Ali Stables and Racecourse would not be where they are today without his total support and we thank him for that. We are also indebted to our loyal team at Jebel Ali and look forward to our 25th anniversary in January 2017.

MT: HH Sheikh Ahmed is a well respected owner and breeder on the international stage, and has to his name some of the most coveted races in Europe. Being one of his best trainers, were you not tempted to take some of your stable stars to race in Europe during the summer?

DS: Of course, I would like to take horses to Europe in the summer, but they have to be good enough. The three horses we bought last season were all bred for dirt racing. Therefore, a horse like Market Rally would not be as effective on turf as he would on dirt.

MT: How are your preparations for the new season going so far?

DS: Preparation for the new season is coming along well, but most of mine will need a run I think.

MT: On your 25th season in the UAE, do you still have unachieved goals?

DS: It is not easy, but to win a Group One race on Dubai World Cup night would be a definite goal.

MT: You fared very well last season with 18 wins and landed your first Classic in the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas with Market Rally. How do you reflect on that famous win and the season as a whole?

DS: The 2015/16 season was very satisfying; we won some quality races, highlighted by Market Rally’s wins in the 2000 Guineas and Al Bastakiya, Forjatt in the National Day Cup and Morawij in the Jebel Ali Sprint. We also had five winners at the Dubai racing carnival. We were looking forward to the UAE Derby but Market Rally was sadly injured.

MT: Can you enumerate some of the best horses who contributed your most winners last season?

DS: Market Rally, Forjatt and Lanadam did well for us.

MT: I believe you have received a handful of new and talented horses this season. Can you go through some of them in detail?

DS: We have three new horses from England, Haalick, Eljeemi and Saafaar. It is hard to say presently as to how they will perform but Haalick seems the best on paper.

MT: What about new owners?

DS: We have a new owner, HE Will Farish, who has sent two horses to be trained at Jebel Ali. He was the American ambassador to the United Kingdom a few years ago and owned the Epsom Oaks winner Casual Look.

He is a world renowned owner and breeder who owns the famous Lane’s End stud farm in Kentucky. His two fillies, Queen’s Parade (Graded placed) and Secure Access (maiden winner), are new additions to the yard.

MT: Jebel Ali Stables is very popular among local racing fans. What will be your main horses to follow this season?

DS: Horses to follow: United Color, Forjatt, Morawij, Top Clearance, Dormello and Bluff. Bluff was uncontrollable last season and had to be gelded. He has a lot of potential and I am hoping he has improved.

MT: What do you tell your patron when his horses win or lose?

DS: My patron watches all the races and is a very good reader of a race himself, so there is not much I can tell him.

MT: Is there one horse who sticks out as the best you have trained?

DS: It has to be Faltaat; he was by Mr Prospector, out of a Breeders’ Cup winning mare, Epitome, who cost $600,000. He was going to be sold at the horses in training sales at Newmarket, and I told the boss he should bring him to Dubai. The problem with him was nobody in Newmarket could ride him.

He came that winter as a rising 4yo who had never seen a race track. I had an Indian work rider, Benjy Stephens, who really made him. He gave us great pleasure winning 13 races and then ended his career as a leading international sire based in New Zealand. He sired Group One winners in England, New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong.

MT: Who is going to ride for you this season?

DS: Chris Hayes will be first jockey again after a very good first season during the last campaign.

MT: I believe you wake up so early every morning to ‘kickstart’ the day, so what do you do to keep yourself fresh?

DS: I am up at 3.45am daily. I do a bit of gym work and swim to keep fit.

MT: What is your favourite sport other than horseracing? 

DS: My favourite sports would be rugby and cricket.

MT: Where do you spend your summer break?

DS: I spend my vacation in Ireland and England during the summer.

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