Author: Duane Fonseca
A hands on approach is what former UAE Champion Trainer Ali Rashid Al Rayhi seems to prefer. We meet for an interview inside his cosy office under the main arch of Grandstand Stables in Nad Al Sheba, but he won’t start until he has poured us a lovely blend of coffee. Later, post interview, he convinces us to stay back for a simple breakfast, where the table is set with Arabic bread, cheese, honey and olives. Frankly, it was the first time I tried the combination, but it worked well, bringing to an end what was a pleasant morning workout. Like all trainers, Al Rayhi knows he has his work cut out and with the stakes raised by the Emirates Racing Authority, who have scheduled a longer and more lucrative season, things are hotting up even as winter approaches.
Al Rayhi too is burning with ambition and having started the season with a handicap victory during the opening meeting at Jebel Ali last weekend, the Emirati handler is raring to go. “From the beginning of this season it was our aim to saddle more winners than last year," says Al Rayhi, who welcomed the UAE season with Hello, ridden by Fernando Jara, winning the first race of the 2018/19 campaign. “Every year that is our aim, to win and beat our previous figures and if that comes with a trainers' title, all well and good. I have won the title by narrow margins in the past so I know what competition feels like and there are many good trainers here who can win the title.
I will be happy whoever wins the title, but we will also do our best to stay ahead and win more races. "That’s why we are in this sport. If the title doesn’t happen, I would not lose sleep over it.” It has been six years since Al Rayhi picked up his last UAE Champion Trainer prize; his third overall in what has been a long and successful career that has made him the fifth most successful trainer in the UAE with a total of 393 wins. He is as ambitious as ever, with success a passion and not an obsession. He is quick to credit a strong team for Grandstand Stables’ success over the years. “Success in horse racing is down to teamwork,” he says. “I believe the whole team works for that success. We all work together to make this yard the best it can be.
And the results are showing as we are being noticed more with each passing season and have new owners and horses.” Nearly a third of his current stable roster of 61 boasts of newcomers: horses supplied by old partners and new owners who are trying to establish themselves in the UAE. Clearly it is his consistency over the years that inspires confidence. “We have horses who are very capable; a good string of horses that have come to us from new and old owners. People trust us to do a good job and we try and do our best.” His philosophies yielded a rich harvest on the 2010 Dubai World Cup card when the HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum-owned Al Shemali won the $5 million Group 1 Dubai Duty Free under Royston Ffrench.
Photo frames capturing his biggest ever moment in the sport adorn the shelves of the trophy cabinet that cover the walls of his office. It is clearly a feat he has hoped to repeat every season. “At the end of it we just want to perform to the best of our ability and make sure all of the horses return from races in their best condition,” says Al Rayhi. “Our focus has always been on improving so we will try to do better during the domestic races and build towards the Dubai World Cup Carnival and then look at what we can do on Dubai World Cup night. That’s how we like to look ahead.” And looking ahead, Al Rayhi is excited about the names occupying the stalls at Grandstand Stables.
He has a string of exciting newcomers like Alkhalifa and Mashaheer, sent to him by one of his long term patrons, HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Deputy Ruler of Dubai and the UAE’s Minister of Finance and Industry; and Daltrey and Fitzsimmons, who will race in the colours of Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Humaid Al Nuaimi. Up and coming owners Phoenix Thoroughbreds have Luxor Temple and Endless Gold running for their syndicate at Grandstand Stables. Rayyan and Roaring Trade also stand out among the newcomers according to Al Rayhi and his long-time assistant Siddiqui Jelani. Also among the new faces is the 2017 Godolphin Mile winner Second Summer, owned by Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, who has transferred from Doug Watson’s yard.
Gotti, Janszoon and sprint king Ertijaal represent other big names among the older horses in the yard. Dual Meydan Sprint winner and twice Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint runner-up Ertijaal remains one of Al Rayhi’s favourites. “He is always a strong and powerful horse who has won a lot for us, but Gotti and Janszoon are also good among the older horses,” he said. “Among the new ones we have a lot of horses with good potential like Mashaheer and Alkhalifa who have come to us from Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid. Daltrey and Fitzsimmons are looking good as well and so are the horses from Phoenix Thoroughbreds which we have received from Mr Amer Abdulaziz.
Luxor Temple is a really nice horse and so is Endless Gold then we also have Rayyan and Roaring Trade. “Second Summer is a Godolphin Mile winner and he brings in class as well. “So we have been blessed to have a good collection of horses in the yard and all of this would not have been possible without the support of our patrons. “HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Malih Al Basti and Saeed Al Tayer have given us Emiratis chances to prove ourselves and given us a platform to compete with the best in the world and it is our duty to perform to the best of our ability.” With a bit of good luck and his best foot forward, Al Rayhi will make his bid for victory.