Author: Howard Wright
One down, nine to go before the biggest day of them all. Another Dubai World Cup Carnival is up and running, and the next three months are bound to reveal a new batch of heroes, and possibly a few heroines, but what of those from the immediate past? Here’s an idea that would while away a few hours between Meydan meetings. Is it time for the UAE to consider creating a Hall of Fame to honour the makers of modern horseracing in the Emirates? The thought occurred after learning that in South Africa, where a Hall of Fame covering all sports was introduced in 2015, racing fans are being asked to vote for the first four inductees from the equine sphere, with at least five names being put forward in each of the categories of horse, owner, trainer and jockey.
While the South African scheme seeks to embrace the whole sporting community, thereby automatically cutting down eligible nominations from one sport, a number of other countries have similar initiatives that honour outstanding achievement in horseracing alone, including the United States, Australia and New Zealand. As yet Britain, shamefully, is not among them, although the concept has been mooted on several occasions without making a serious impression. Maybe the Emirates Racing Authority, which administers governance throughout the UAE, could show the way. South African racing followers have a long history over which to start compiling a Hall of Fame. Similar devotees in the UAE would not have to go back quite so far, to 1992-93 to be precise, since that season marks the beginning of the ERA’s official statistics.
Racing had been conducted in the Emirates before then, but it was sporadic, spread out and run under conditions that were not centralised. Written evidence of how racing was organised in those early is, sadly, scant. Bill Mather’s book ‘Not a Job, More a Way of Life’, which was privately published and has been referenced in this column on more than one occasion, remains the best account of what life was like for racing folk in the late 1980s. Until someone, with time and an investigative curiosity can be persuaded to commit to the comprehensive literary task, more will be revealed when Pat Buckley, who has been running the show in Abu Dhabi since 1991, completes his long awaited chronicle. Buckley and associates have been collecting material for some time, and the outcome, when published, is bound to be fascinating.
In the meantime, mulling over the returns for that opening 1992-93 season demonstrates how far the UAE has come in a short time. Dennis Batteate was Champion Jockey, with 18 winners from 67 rides. By contrast, Tadhg O’Shea won last season’s title with 44 winners from 336 rides. Batteate, who carried on riding in Britain until 2009, and joint runner-up Gary Boag, who tied with Richard Hills on 15 winners and had his last ride in the US in 2015, owed their success to the preponderance of races for Purebred Arabians. The skewed programme was also largely responsible for the then president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, topping the owners’ list with 17 winners (from easily the highest number of runners, 55), eight ahead of Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, whose family, including brother Maktoum but not Sheikh Mohammed, filled six of the top ten places.
A total of 97 individual owners had runners that season. Last term, by which time Thoroughbred racing had assumed much great importance, the equivalent number was 396, and Godolphin shared numerical honours with Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan with 36 winners, one ahead of Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda. An even bigger percentage explosion has occurred in the ranks of trainers, of whom 139 had at least one runner in 2017-18, compared with 24 in 1992-93, although the latter contained 43 returns but 19 of those were curiously designated Not in Training, with a stable’s initials alongside and one had no name at all. The list of leading trainers in 1992- 93 has a remarkably familiar ring to it.
Dhruba Selvaratnam, who left Jebel Ali only last year, was top with 18 winners from 64 runners, immediately followed by Satish Seemar (15) and Julian Smart (13), with Erwan Charpy (8) in sixth place and Kiaran McLaughlin (6) ninth, all of whom continue to solider on in different circumstances. UAE training pioneers Paddy Rudkin (12) in fourth and Mather (6) in eighth completed those named in the top ten. No doubt some of those personalities from 1992-93 would be prime candidates for a UAE Hall of Fame. However, for all that I have my own ideas, it would be invidious to start naming names at this stage, for fear of inciting unnecessary problems and sensitivities, especially among those who felt they should be on a list of nominations but were not. Better perhaps to leave that to an official organiser and a panel of local experts. Let’s first see whether there is an appetite for the general concept of a UAE Hall of Fame.