EXTENSIVE REMEDIAL work on the surface at Jebel Ali Racecourse has clearly reaped its reward with the refurbished track receiving a massive vote of confidence from jockeys, trainers and Emirates Racing Authority (ERA) stewards during a trial on Tuesday morning. In scenes somewhat reminiscent of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, ERA head steward, Sam Shinsky, surely one of the tallest custodians in world racing, in company with racecourse manager Engineer Shareef Al Halawani, led a delegation of mainly jockeys on a ‘walk around’ of the repaired surface.
Al Halawani explained in detail the work undertaken in recent weeks to eradicate the excess kickback endured by horses and jockeys the last time the course staged a meeting at the end of November. He said: “Obviously we listened to all the feedback and concerns from both yourselves, the jockeys and of course the ERA stewards and have acted upon them, consulting experts as to the best way to solve the problems. “We found a lot of the old material had become quite solid where it combined with the oil over many years and it was that causing the hard kickback which was the main complaint of the jockeys.
“We have ‘weeded out’ all that, basically, waste as well as any stones we have come across and utilised, from Dubai Municipality, a beachcomber, a great ‘piece of kit’ which picks up the surface and sifts it, just returning the fine surface to the track, while keeping hold of any stones or lumps. “We have access to the beachcomber for racedays and will use it before and after racing every meeting to maintain the new surface in pristine condition. “We are delighted with the way the surface looks and will strive to maintain it in excellent shape moving forward.” Shinsky added: “As you can see they have done an awful lot of work on the track and it is visibly a lot better than it was when we last raced and for the last trial when the surface was uneven, inconsistent and basically not raceable with excessive kickback and hard lumps of it.
“The surface is now a consistent depth and much finer in consistency. Hopefully when you ride on it you will notice the difference and not be subject to painful kickback as was previously the case.” And that is exactly what happened; no less than 13, a baker’s dozen, horses set off for the 1600m pole where starter Shane Ryan was waiting for them and dispatched them, from the starting stalls, to gallop around the end of the back straight, the home turn and the upward climb to the line. Richard Mullen was out in front with both Tadhg O’Shea and Royston Ffrench among those in behind, in the brunt of any kickback. Antonio Fresu, Adrie de Vries, Pat Dobbs, Sam Hitchcott, Pat Cosgrave and Xavier Ziani were among the other jockeys involved in front of an ever growing audience which by now included Frank Gabriel, the executive director of racing at Dubai Racing Club.
Trainers Nicholas Bachalard, based at the adjacent Jebel Ali Stables for racecourse patron Sheikh Ahmed, Doug Watson, Erwan Charpy, as well as Satish Seemar and his assistant, nephew Bhupat, were also keen observers as the trial unfolded, the jockeys using about half the width of the home straight. Eyes fixed firmly to his binoculars, a small smile creased the lips of Shinsky, located in the main grandstand just below his normal stewards’ room base, who turned to his steward brethren to report: “Last time we trialled you could see lumps of kickback from here and that is not the case today. It looks good but we obviously need to speak to the jockeys.” The dismounting jockeys certainly were not grumbling and seemed happy with the work undertaken and the result of that undertaking.
Mullen said: “I was out in front so was out of the kickback but my filly really went through the surface nicely, surprisingly so. I am certainly happy. “It is a dirt track, basically, so you are always going to have kickback but that seemed fine to me. “You have to remember that is the first time horses have galloped on it and, as it settles, the surface will tighten up and get better.” O’Shea added: “All good for me; I was in behind and facing the kickback which was a lot finer than it was a few weeks ago. “They have done a good job and I am looking forward to getting back to racing here on Friday.” Ffrench continued: “I was buried in the middle so taking the brunt of the kickback which was fine. We were getting bruised and battered from the kickback before but this is much better.”
De Vries chipped in with: “Obviously there is kickback but whereas before it was striking you hard, today it has just dissipated as it hits you. It is good and a massive improvement on before.” Shinsky and Al Halawani thanked all the jockeys for their time and contributions, with the ERA releasing a statement which said: “The ERA would like to thank Jebel Ali Racecourse for addressing the concerns from the ERA that led to three racemeetings being cancelled from Jebel Ali Racecourse. Jebel Ali Racecourse has always been a valued club for the racing industry in the United Arab Emirates and their continued support in striving to provide a safe track, for both jockeys and horses is welcomed by the ERA.
“The ERA and Jebel Ali Racecourse will continue to monitor the track surface in the upcoming racemeetings, working together to provide the best possible surface for the racing industry.” Al Halawani concluded: “Sheikh Ahmed is committed to providing the best possible conditions for horses and jockeys and has been fully supportive of the work undertaken. “He, as we all are, is delighted to be able to welcome the UAE racing fraternity and public back this Friday for our biggest fixture of the season, Jebel Ali Mile day. “As I said earlier, the beachcomber will be used before racing on Friday and the track is going to be maintained on a daily basis. “The weather last week was a hindrance but the track coped well with the rain. With all the work we have done it is important to keep the track in this excellent condition in the interests of safety for the horses and jockeys.”
We could not agree more and Al Halawani, who was actually an engineer on the original Jebel Ali Racecourse project when it was built in 1990, deserves a big ‘pat on the back’ for ‘grabbing the bull by the horns’ and personally taking responsibility for the remedial process. On hearing the positive outcome, Mohammad Saeed Al Shehhi, the director of the office of Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum added: “I would like to thank HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum for his continued support, and I would like to congratulate all the fans of Jebel Ali who will be out in force on Friday, as well as the owners, trainers and jockeys on the return of racing to Jebel Ali and the excellent opportunities it presents their horses.
“All the experts have concluded the track is in mint condition, the latest repairs have helped reduce the kickback, and all jockeys and trainers in today’s trial have praised the track. “Jebel Ali always was and certainly still is a safe racetrack but we brought in experts to cooperate with the jockeys’ complaints and to make sure safety measures are met. “I would like to thank Shareef Al Halawani, trainer Nicholas Bachalard and engineer Yosri who have kept up to date with the repair process step by step and led the journey to fix all issues, and also thanks to the ERA for their cooperation. “We are obviouslyhappy to welcome back racing to JebelAli and a bigthank you to all those who cooperated, as well as those who enquiredabout the ongoingprogress. “JebelAli is making a powerful comeback and it maintains its position as a major pillar in UAE Flat racing.”