Author: Duane Fonseca
BHUPAT SEEMAR says he was never cut out for a desk job. I believe him. The 45yo has been given provisional charge of the large stock at Zabeel Stables and as we sit down for what is perhaps his first ever print interview as a full time trainer, his conscious subconscious has kicked into action. He has shunned the idea of moving behind the large desk occupying the office we meet in and instead he sits cross legged on a chair reserved for visitors opposite me.
“I did a business degree, you know, but I never really wanted a desk job,” he says. For me, he has certainly walked the talk so far. And as far as racing in the UAE is concerned, he is well on his way to establishing himself in his rookie season in charge. In racing patter, he’s flown out of the blocks with 16 winners, 16 runner-ups and a further 12 third place finishes in 112 dispatches, yielding strike rates of 14.28% and 39.28% for winning and top three finishes respectively.
The Indian handler, who has stepped in for his uncle Satish, the UAE’s winningmost trainer, feels nothing much has changed… not everything at least. He explains: “In a way nothing has really changed except the situation. I’m still doing basically what I was doing before. But I guess having my name out there brings perhaps a little bit of added pressure.
“Maybe there’s a little bit of pressure, but it’s more or less the same as I’ve always done the best I could for the last 20 years. That’s the person I am. Especially when it comes to horses, I’ve given my best and I don’t think I could have done anything different. “It’s been a good start and we’ve got a great team and long may it continue.
“Things actually don’t feel any different, but it does feel a bit different when my family is there. You win a race and you have your family there in the winning picture… that definitely makes it special. But otherwise you win races and it’s a great feeling but when you don’t win then you learn from them and try to better your performance the next time.
We were definitely doing well last year and the year before and a few years before that.” That was a time Seemar spent under the tutelage of Satish, who offered him a role in Dubai nearly two decades back. He had gained plenty of experience working in the United States before landing in Dubai. “Nearly seven years,” Seemar said.
Picked for an internship by Taylor Made Farms, Seemar’s career in racing started to unfold out of a precisely cut swathe. He could not have had it tailored better to suit an interest in horses that had been nurtured since childhood. As a 9yo, Seemar rode ponies whenever he could during his time spent at a boarding school where life is predisposed to a tightly regimented schedule.
Having finished his early schooling and college in the Indian capital city of Delhi, Seemar decided he did not want to waste time idling up the corporate ladder and instead chose to take up the international internship with Taylor Made Farms. The rest as they say is history: Having completed the 18 month long programme in Kentucky, he did a six month stint at 1991 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ winning American trainer Chris Speckert’s yard and then spent nearly five years sharpening his skills in the care of US Hall of Fame handler Bob Baffert in California.
“We have horses at home as well so the interest kind of started early. In boarding school I rode since I was nine,” said Seemar, who hails from the Northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan. “Even when I was in college I used to go work for Usha Stud owned by Ameeta and Pradeep Mehra. They are one of the biggest stud farms in India and in my second and third year in college, I used to go study and then head to the stud farm.
“After college, I had a job with American Express Corporate Banking. In those days car finance was just getting into India and my bosses were really good at their job and they’d finish their annual targets in 3-4 months, so the rest of the time we were just sitting there twiddling our thumbs. At 21 or 22 that’s not where I wanted to be.
“Horses were always something I wanted to do and obviously with the connection with Satish I asked if I could go to Taylor Made Farms, who had a good international intern programme. So, that’s what I did. “I used to work for Baffert and when I first had this opportunity to work in Dubai, I thought I’d do a two year stint.
I wasn’t sure, but I thought I’d do that and then go back to America. But it was good. In my first year we won the UAE 2000 Guineas with Little Jim and then the Cape Verdi with Festive Style. It was a great start and I felt I had landed on my feet. “Satish has always been very good to me and the staff here are good and hard working.
They were going to build Meydan and there was going to be an increase in prize money for the Dubai World Cup and the carnival was starting and I thought why should I leave when this place was going to make everyone from around the world come here to race. I was just lucky to be here.”
Seemar considers himself lucky for his Baffert connection too. “Bob himself rose from the bottom up and the stories he used to tell about his life were amazing. How he went from being a jockey to a very good quarter horse trainer and then switching to Thoroughbreds,” Seemar added. “He had only three Thoroughbreds in his yard when he won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 1991 with Thirty Slews, so he knew how to struggle and work hard and he put those ethics in me.
“While I was at Baffert’s we won the Kentucky Derby with War Emblem and the Preakness and Belmont Stakes with Point Given. Vindication also won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile during my time with him. “We had some amazing Thoroughbreds to work with and to be around those horses and experience their conditioning and see them win some of the best races in the world was great.
“I learned a lot working with him. It was nothing but just hard work while I was in America. He had a lot of faith in me and when you get mutual respect and faith it is amazing.” Seemar might have learned the ropes Stateside, but he truly matured in the game right here. “Satish has been very good to me and sometimes allowed me to make decisions with horses.
He gave me a lot of rein to dwell at my craft and to grow as a trainer and a human being and I cannot thank him enough.” Seemar made racing his world and the sport gave him the world including his wife Caroline, who he met while working in the US. The couple have a daughter, Shyla, 10. “I met Caroline in America.
She was an apprentice at the time for the Irish trainer John Oxx. She had come to America for the winter and was riding for a trainer named Sean McCarthy and we met through mutual friends,” he said. “My daughter rides and swims and is good at a lot of things, but right now she doesn’t know what she wants to do.
Someday, she’ll follow the route hopefully.” Seemar has made umpteen trips to the winner’ enclosure alongside Satish and taken quite a few by himself so far, Kafoo supplying him with his first victory when nicking a 1600m maiden at Meydan on 18 November. It was a big night for him and he finished with a double courtesy of Imperial Empire’s success in the 1400m handicap that followed.
His proudest moment yet, however, might have been walking into the winner’s enclosure with both Caroline and Shyla in tow after Switzerland’s stunning victory in the Listed Al Garhoud Sprint on New Year’s Day last Saturday. It was one of two winners on the first day of 2022 for Seemar, who had earlier won the Al Jaddaf Mile, a 1600m Conditions event with Conglomerate.
Seemar has been firing on all cylinders and he is revving hard towards goals that are both personal and aimed at the overall development of the sport. “We have some of the best owners here in the UAE and my goal is to win some of the big races for the people who have faith in us as a team. Hopefully, we can improve their horses and they can win races,” he said. “It will be great to get more people involved in racing. My friends here are getting interested in racing and buying horses.
Many expats didn’t know how to get into racing and hopefully we can get many of them involved. “We have some of the best racing in the world here. And there are a few other countries in the region that are starting to follow our lead like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar. Dubai is a pinnacle and everybody seems to want to follow, hopefully we can continue to improve ourselves.”
There are no prizes for guessing the one race he’d like to have his name associated with. “The Dubai World Cup has to be the top race to win and we will aspire and try our best. Hopefully, the stars will align and that will happen.” They seemed to have lined up perfectly so far.