Author: Duane Fonseca

THE EMIRATI owner breeder Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda has made his name synonymous with the UAE Owners’ Championship after winning a fourth title in five years. Al Nabooda has retained the title for the past two seasons and will start the 2021/22 campaign, for which he already admits to having begun preparing, looking to defend the title for the third straight time.

Al Nabooda wears many hats and has over the years switched seamlessly between his varied roles of businessman, family man and a horseman, with an unceasing passion to perfect the UAE bloodlines. He has championed the cause of the UAE-bred Purebred Arabian for years and openly declared Emirates-bred horses to be as potent as racehorses compared to their foreign-bred equals.

His unrelenting passion has kept his wheels turning in top gear over the years, bringing him numerous accolades including a splendid 2019 Group 1 Dubai Kahayla Classic success with his homebred AF Maher. It was the second time a horse bred by him had won the race, AF Mathmoon winning first time in 2016 in the colours of Shadwell.

The Emirati pioneer came close to winning the Dubai Kahayla Classic for a second time this year, with AF Alwajel being headed in the final 200m of the 2000m contest and denied by just three-quarters of a length. In an in-depth interview with Al Adiyat, Al Nabooda spoke of his plans going forward and revealed his secret to successfully transitioning between his many roles.

Excerpts... Your thoughts on winning a fourth UAE Owners’ Championship?

I thank God for this fourth title and it means a lot to me. It wasn’t easy especially with the Covid pandemic, but to win despite everything going on for the fourth time shows I am on the right track and with the right team. It is down to teamwork. We work very closely, from the trainers, the jockeys, the farriers, the grooms, those in charge of the feed, everyone does their bit for the team. We have a good team in place and when you have a good team you will get good results.

But, having said that, you also need to have good horses. Our UAE-bred horses have consistently shown they have the ability to compete with the best from the world. We haven’t just won one year. If that was the case, it could be attributed to luck, but to continue and stay among the top four is very good. It is a sign that we are on the right track.

Winning the Dubai Kahayla Classic along with the title would have been amazing. Were you disappointed?

I am very pleased with the way AF Alwajel ran in the Kahayla Classic. He was a sprinter and I think he holds two sprint records. Even in the Kahayla, despite finishing second, he completed the race in a quicker time than the previous record.

To me, all this shows the horse has a big heart and he can compete. I was very happy with his performance in the race and it shows Ernst Oertel’s expertise as a trainer because he was able to change him from a sprinter into a middle distance horse, which is really good.

I am very happy and I was hoping for him to win because he was running against some very strong horses, especially the ones from Saudi Arabia, but his result shows local breds can still show we can be competitive and will have a presence in those big races. All results are a blessing from God, so I just accept them and I am very happy with that result.

You, Ernst Oertel and Tadhg O’Shea make a good team. Comment...

I have a good team around me. A team that works not because of money, but because they love horses. I have Ernst and Karl Oertel and Tadhg and they work as if they own things. I make them reach that feeling that they are working for themselves.

Ernst has been brilliant as a trainer and came close to winning the UAE Trainers’ Championship himself. It would have been a second time all three won like in the 2019 season. Tadhg always chooses horses he rides often, sometimes I want him to ride a particular horse, but he prefers another because he has worked specifically with that horse.

 We talk very openly and don’t talk about negative things. We have a good relationship amongst ourselves. This relationship of trust and respect we share is worth more than any contract between us.

Your love for horses is incredible considering you are allergic to them?

I have been allergic to horses all along. Doctors told me when I turn 18 the allergies would reduce, but that did not happen… it only worsened. I went to many different doctors and I tried different things but nothing worked. I get a very bad asthma attack when I touch a horse or dust or their sweat or hair or anything so I try to be away, but that doesn’t stop me from loving my horses.

Can you talk about your role as breeder?

The breeding season here is short and we continue to do our best to try and produce good foals. There are no guarantees when breeding, but you need to have a good foundation to start with and good bloodlines. If you have good bloodlines you can breed successfully.

How do you split your time between business, home and horses?

What stops me from giving more time to my horses are my allergies as these make me very sick to be honest. It holds me back. I like walking into the stables and seeing that all is in order and that the horses are happy and healthy, but that can give me an allergy and that’s what stops me so Karl helps me a lot. He has learned my way and I trust him 100%.

As far as juggling roles are concerned, I run my father’s companies so I come to the office every morning and am here until 1pm or 1.30pm. After that I go to my mother’s place and have lunch there and relax and then I go to either the farm at Aweer or Madam. If you are passionate about something and are doing what you love, you will always give your best.

You’ve set the ball rolling for the 2021/22 campaign?

I’ve gone with Ernst and Karl and we’ve chosen the horses that will go in pre-training. Most of the 3yos will go in pre-training and they will enjoy the summer with the trainer and we will start with them next season.

What is your best memory in racing?

My best memory is AF Mathmoon, a horse I bred, winning the Dubai Kahayla Classic for the late Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. If you are a breeder and an owner of Purebred Arabians, nothing compares to winning that race. AF Maher did it again and then this year AF Alwajel came close and for me he’s a winner.

What is the main thing you learned from the Covid pandemic?

Since Covid started it has cleared many misconceptions and made a lot of things clear for me. Of course it was a difficult year in all respects. It was stressful, but I think it has made people appreciate the level and safety of life that we had and sometimes took for granted.

Certain things unless you lose them you never realise their true value, so we must learn to appreciate all that we have. This has impacted everyone, everywhere and people complain, but things will be good again. Our government has handled the situation very well compared to other countries, particularly the vaccination programme.

Losing Sheikh Hamdan must have been a big loss for you. Comment...

Losing him was a big loss for me because he was like a father and teacher to me. I would always consult him on racing affairs and he pointed me in the right direction. Sheikh Hamdan’s guidance helped me achieve all I have achieved today in racing. He always backed me and was there to support me and we discussed horses and racing extensively. Losing him, I felt a part of me just went away.