Please tell us about your background and what sparked your love of horses and horse racing?
I have a rich history at Bay Meadows Racetrack in San Mateo, California, which was a beautiful racetrack, and I had many firsts there. It was the first track to race under lights, and Seabiscuit ran there. It was also the first racetrack to actually have a plane land on the grounds and deliver a horse to it, so it was an amazing place to work.
My father was stationed there during World War Two when it was a medic facility where they trained. He met my mother while he was there, so when he came back, he worked at Bay Meadows Racetrack as a track man, and then shortly out of high school and a few semesters of college, I went there and worked with him. My son then worked for me while I was there as a track man.
What inspired you to start your career in the horse racing industry?
Once you start working with horses, you fall in love with them quite easily. My father started me off at the racetrack quite early. I was cleaning stables when I was 12 and 13 years old during the summers, but they’re beautiful animals and they’re just so spectacular.
Can you explain your role and key responsibilities at King Abdulaziz Racecourse?
I’m in charge of the dirt racetrack, and my primary responsibility is to create a mixture that goes into this track. We build it a few months before we start racing, and then I’m responsible for the maintenance programme that goes along with that. Maintaining the consistency of the track, its nature as far as being kind to the horses, that’s where lots of my duties lie.
The dirt track has received some outstanding feedback from Champion Jockeys, including Mike Smith & Frankie Dettori. What goes into maintaining it as a Grade One racing surface?
One of the things that we do here is keep a lot of data. We do penetrometer and moisture readings every day, which is what you would assume would be done to a turf track, but we also do it to the dirt track, as we want to have the data that shows we’re being as consistent as we possibly can. I think one of the most important characteristics of a racetrack is that it’s consistent for the horses.
Tell us about some of the equipment you have to use here to keep it in great shape?
We have what we call roller harrows, which are smaller and lighter than many of those used in the USA. It’s an important piece of equipment that carries and cuts the depth that we need. The grader is also very important, and the couple of men that we have here operating it are very good at what they do. On a banked racetrack, dirt has a tendency to migrate downhill, so the grader brushes it back up to maintain the evenness.
There’s no draw bias on the track, how do you manage this?
Again, it’s our maintenance programme, the grading, the harrowing, and also the mix has a lot to do with that. This track has been a very kind track for horses, it’s very soft and yet they get a hold of it very well, so its consistently a good surface. It gives the horses an opportunity to come from off the pace, which is always exciting to see.
Do you see an expansion of racing here in Saudi, using more dirt tracks like the one at King Abdulaziz Racecourse across the region?
Yes, and I think that’s part of HRH Prince Bandar’s vision, to improve the racetracks that are surrounding us in the kingdom. We want to bring the other racetracks up to best possible standards, which is a good thing, because it helps keeps horses healthy, to have a surface that is similar and safe, it creates a healthier and safer sport.
What one horse would you love to see here racing on your dirt track at this year’s Saudi Cup race meeting?
I would have loved to see Authentic here, you could just feel the heart of that horse in the Breeders’ Cup, when he was coming on the outside and starting to gain on the rest of the field a bit, and with not too much effort he just took off. He was a powerful and beautiful horse, it was an absolute pleasure to watch, so I’d have loved to see him here but sadly he has been retired.
You live here in Saudi Arabia, if a visitor was coming to see you, what is the one place you would take them to go and see?
One of the amazing places here is called the ‘Edge of the World’, it’s exactly what it sounds like, you’re on a very high cliff that just drops off to a huge basin. It’s almost like the Grand Canyon here in Saudi Arabia, it’s beautiful.