Author: Duane Fonseca
A diminutive man with a tall ambition, Ali Al Badwawi knew only too well of the rollercoaster ride that lay ahead of him when he decided to become a trainer. “I knew it was never going to be easy; nothing is and if things are easy you wonder if they are really worth chasing,” said Al Badwawi, who currently works as an assistant with veteran UAE-based French trainer Erwan Charpy. “Racing is a tough industry and we have strong leadership in the sport as well with HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who built Godolphin and paved the way for us Emiratis to have these kind of big dreams.
Our leaders encourage us to dream big and I have dreams of my own and that is to become a successful Emirati trainer and do my country proud.” Not only does he have big league ambition, but Al Badwawi has been blessed with the traits needed to succeed. To start with he appears to genuinely love horses and has a kind of steely determination which when mated to the curiosity that pushes him to further his knowledge is seemingly a perfect recipe to succeed. For a man whose family has no background whatsoever in equestrian sport apart from a owning a few horses for recreation on their Hatta farm, Al Badwawi has already done quite a bit for himself. He started to develop his interest in racehorse training from extremely humble settings, taking it forward from recreational riding all the way to becoming a work rider and then getting a jockey’s licence from the British Racing School.
He’s ridden in flat races as an apprentice in Lebanon where he had placings and appeared in endurance events here in the Emirates, before Mohammed Al Subose insisted he take up training as he was too old to be starting the long and arduous road to becoming a professional jockey. “It’s been good so far and a learning curve all the way,” Al Badwawi explains. “I started riding when I was 14 but that was only for fun on the family farm in Hatta. Nobody in my family was into horses but I absolutely loved them. We had a few horses and I would ride every day. I enjoyed it a lot and wanted to explore the possibility of becoming a professional rider so I took steps to try and get there.
“I started to do some work riding for Rod Simpson at Ghantoot in 1999 and from there, when Rod moved to Jebel Ali, I moved with him to ride there. It was all a very good experience. “I kept riding for other local trainers like Bakhit Al Ketbi in Sharjah and then Abdulla bin Huzaim in Marmoom. “I wanted to get a licence and so I went to ride for the late John Hills, then a Lambourn trainer in the UK. It was a good way of getting experience riding abroad, even though it was all at just a starting stage. I received my licence from the British Racing School but when I came back the season was o v e r so I went to ride in Lebanon and that was a good experience as well. When I returned, I rode for Bin Huzaim again and then was with Mohammed Al Subose, who urged me to consider training and joining him as his assistant.
At that time he was training at Meydan, so I was with him for some time.” Training was big change, but Al Badwawi dealt with it well. “It was a completely different ball game. First as a rider you were giving feedback to the trainers and now I was suddenly on the other side, but it was very good because I learned a lot from Al Subose as well,” Al Badwawi said. “You have to think very differently as a trainer. It’s just not the same. You have to make sure the horses are ok after they come back from their runs and you are responsible for their welfare.”
His interest in training caught the eye of Sayed Al Tayer and Malih Al Basti, the respective Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Meydan Group, and Frank Gabriel Jr, the CEO of Dubai Racing Club, who decided to send him to Ireland to train under legendary handler Michael Halford. Al Badwawi spent a trio of three month stints at Halford’s yard at the Curragh in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and was later sent for further training under US Racing Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella in Los Angeles, California. On his return, he started to work under Charpy. “Working with them was great. You cannot think of a better place to learn more about the training side of the industry,” Al Badwawi said. “I began to know a lot about younger horses from Michael Halford and I realised how different it was working with them compared to working with older horses.
That was a unique experience and because Godolphin had a lot of horses with him at the time I learned a lot about horse behaviour. Mr Halford was a very good teacher and I gained a lot of insights from him.” On the other side of the Atlantic, Mandella cut him down to size. “When I went to train with him I was already assistant trainer, but he told me I would have to abide by his rules and that meant starting from zero. I was only keen to learn everything, even the smallest of things and I was more than happy that he was happy to take me under his wing,” Al Badwawi said. “I had to start at the very basics at his yard at Santa Anita.
I even worked as a groom; I was game for everything because that’s what I wanted: to know every bit of the puzzle. “For the first month, Mandella had me cleaning the box and the horse, removing the shavings and everything else from the box and after that there was track work to learn and after three weeks he told me ‘good job’. Then one day he asked his assistant to bring a saddle and a bridle. He dismantled everything and asked me how many pieces were there and to put it together. I didn’t know how to do it, but I learned. “We moved for seven weeks to Del Mar in San Diego and I used to spend the mornings with Mr Mandella at the track.
He would tell me what work needed to be done with each horse and why. He taught me all about their diet and how to get them in good shape and keep them fit for racing. “He also taught me the work of a stable manager. How to manage the staff and do the entries and send them to the racecourse and which horses needed to run in which races, there was a lot to learn and I was only happy to soak in everything first hand. It was a great opportunity and I embraced it with open arms. Mr Al Basti and Mr Al Tayer would always check on how I was doing and that support made me feel really nice.” During his time in the States, Al Badwawi even worked as a farrier and he is glad to have had the entire machinery laid bare for him to learn everything from the nuts and bolts up. “They were all such good people to learn from and I am so glad that I had these opportunities,” Al Badwawi added.
“Mr Mandella is a really nice man and while working with him I met big trainers like Bob Baffert. “Mr Baffert told me once that if you are going to train horses to race on the Flat you need a strong heart and if you didn’t it would be better to learn to train jump horses. He may have been joking but it was a great moment for me. I would like to reiterate and say a big thank you to HH Sheikh Mohammed, Saeed Al Tayer, Malih Al Basti and Frank for their support in getting me to where I am right now.” His learning curve continues under Charpy and Al Badwawi is learning more about racing in the UAE from the veteran Frenchman.
“Mr Charpy is a great trainer with so much experience of working here. He has 528 winners here and really knows his horses well. He is a good horseman and I have learned so much more about racing from him.” In the future he will definitely have his chance to put his knowledge into play.