Post card from Meydan

21 Dec 17

BHA Stipendiary Steward, Adrian Sharpe, is seconded to the Emirates Racing Authority for the UAE season. 

I have now been in Dubai on secondment to the Emirates Racing Authority (ERA) for just over a month, writes Adrian Sharpe.

Being more used to frequenting tracks such as Kelso and Catterick in the winter, I stepped off the plane at Dubai International Airport at the end of October with some trepidation and a king size tube of factor 30. However, I have been pleasantly surprised that even when in the high thirties, the heat is not oppressive and it is easy to see why Dubai has become the destination of choice for winter sunseekers.

My base for the next few months is the Al Murooj Appartments in Downtown Dubai, about 15 minutes from Meydan Racecourse. This secondment initiative is in its second year having been arranged between Jamie Stier, Head of Regulation at the British Horseracing Authority, Frank Gabriel Executive Director of the Dubai Racing Club, in order to give us Stipes more experience and a better understanding of international racing regulation. Following my Colleague Will Hudson’s spell during the 2016/17 season, I will be here for the remainder of the UAE racing season which concludes with the World Cup on 30 March. My stewarding colleagues for the winter are Sam Shinsky (Head Steward) and Taylor Wilson, both of whom have learned their trade working for Racing Victoria at tracks such as Flemington and Caulfield.

This has been a ‘jaw dropping’ experience both from the general Dubai experience and the racing. Everyone has heard of Meydan and its iconic falcon wing stand, but no TV pictures or virtual reality tours could do the seven‐year‐old racecourse justice! Just walking around the place is mesmerizing; with the perfectly cambered bends, luxury equine and human facilities and a mile‐long stand, it’s not surprising that many international visitors choose Meydan as the best racecourse in the world. There are four other tracks here in the UAE, all under the control of the ERA. Unsurprisingly, none of these are quite as glamorous as Meydan but each has its own charm and uniqueness. Most UK punters will be familiar with Jebel Ali and its dirt track with a ‘Towcester like’ uphill finish. Abu Dhabi, a turf track in the Emirates capital, has a great atmosphere and enthusiastic crowd. It is also the domain of the genial Racing Director and Clerk of the Course, none other than Pat Buckley, the 1963 Grand National winning rider of Ayala and brother of recently retired Goodwood Clerk Seamus. Abu Dhabi, an hour and a half south of Dubai City, is home to the £1 million Jewel Crown; the richest pure‐bred Arabian race in the world. This race was on the card of one of the first fixtures I attended in the UAE and what a baptism of fire it was…we reversed the winner and second’s placing after interference in the final 200 metres. These big race decisions always attract plenty of comment from the media and although an appeal was launched, our decision held firm. Sharja is a dirt track about half an hour north of Meydan and is part of the impressive equine complex of Sharja Equestrian Club but race only 6 times a year. Al Ain, a dirt racetrack, is an hour and a half south east near the border of Oman and is a beautiful city well named as the garden city of the Emirates.

Leading UAE rider at the moment after 5 weeks is Pat Cosgrave (14 wins/ AED 1,088,350 prize‐money) closely followed by other expat riders Tadgh O’Shea, Pat Dobbs, Richard Mullen, Royston Ffrench, Sam Hitchcott, Dane O’Neill and Connor Beasley (who is making a great impression in his first season riding in the UAE with 6 wins). Top trainer is Doug Watson who enjoyed a red letter day at Meydan on Thursday with a four‐timer.

Whilst there are only 62 fixtures in the UAE racing Calendar, the Stipe’s duties here are much more diverse and this keeps us pretty busy on non‐racing days. These non‐raceday duties have been a great experience and learning curve for me; such as arranging and officiating at Barrier trials, conducting out of competition dope testing, sitting on non‐raceday disciplinary panel enquiries, supervising entries, balloting and declarations and currently we are arranging a horses in training sale at Meydan on 18 December. The ERA Registry Office staff, headed by Manager Hilary Youdale, have been extremely patient helping me get up to speed with the racing administration duties and all are hugely impressive multi‐skillers on racedays acting as Clerks of Scales, Judges, Stewards’ Secretaries and staffing the weighing room. The ERA Registry Offices are also the base of Handicappers Melvin Day (Senior) and Neil Jennings, and also fellow seasonal newbies Craig Evans (Race Caller) and Belinda Rose (Regulatory Veterinary Officer). More to follow in the next edition…!