Abu Dhabi: In earlier times, classic Purebred Arabian horses were considered more suited for horse shows than racing.
However, the Purebred Arabians have come a long way after battling an identity crisis, thanks to the efforts of the ruling families, racing enthusiasts and connoisseurs in the Gulf. Meticulous planning and breeding has put the Purebred Arabians among the horses that belong to the racetrack. They now have the speed and endurance to match the best racehorses in the world.
Purebred Arabian horses are on the path to world recognition. However, the road to redemption wasn’t easy as until the early 90s horse racing was mostly confined to the rich and affluent.
Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club (ADEC) Racing Manager Pat Buckley’s spell in Oman is a testimony to that era. “Those days, members from the Gulf states, with Oman taking the lead, formed a committee for Arabian racing and the UAE was not involved. But there was Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and Saudi Arabia,” recollects Buckley, who made the switch to the UAE in the 90s.
“There was a little green track here in Abu Dhabi for the ruling family. I remember coming here in 1981 to Al Ain for a race for horses and camels organised by Shaikh Zayed (Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late President), but then it was more of a day out for the local guys,” Buckley says.
“It was a mixture of Arabian blood as they didn’t have proper documentation on who was the sire, who was the mother. And each country would produce their best Arabic horses. But one had to analyse on our own and judge if they were Purebred Arabians and allow them to race. But unfortunately, many were not.”
Buckley arrived in Abu Dhabi in 1990 when racing was beginning to take shape in the UAE under Racing Rules, just a year ahead of the first meeting.
“When I came to the UAE, there were a lot of Arabian horses in the farm and it was a mixture of it. Many of them were not suited for racing, neither were they Purebred Arabians going by the lack of records, apart from the Royal Stable of Shaikh Zayed, who had kept records,” says Buckley, adding that in 1991 Shaikh Mansour (Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs), Shaikh Falah (Bin Zayed Al Nahyan) and Shaikh Tahnoun (Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, National Security Adviser) imported a lot of horses. Some very good Arabian horses from America. Thereafter, every horse that raced had a record and passport and later electronic chipping came into existence.
“We had 4-5 races for Purebred Arabians in which perhaps we had 4-5 horses in each race. It was very difficult, Sharjah had a few; a few horses came from Ras Al Khaimah. And it was clearly half-blood racing as people had no record,” says Buckley, adding that races for horses without records was stopped the following season.
The game changer in Purebred Arabian racing occurred, according to Deirdre Hyde, stud manager at Al W’Rsan Stables, once the horses were imported from around the world and the recognition came after the success of Al Anood (Unchained Melody) and Maha (Joyzell) both brought from the US. They were Purebred Arabian legends to race in the UAE. Al Anudd won 36 of her 37 races, including three successive Dubai Kahayla Classics titles and Maha, a champion sprinter, was undefeated in 27 starts. “Cherry picking horses from the world like legends Al Anudd and Maha made a huge difference,” said Hyde. “The beauty shows, endurance and all these things came in,” she says.
Another major boost was the advent of the HH Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Horse Flat Racing Festival. The Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Crown Jewel IPIC, a Group 1 race is worth €1.2 million (Dh4.9 million) and the richest ever for Purebred Arabians and both the Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies World Championship (IFAHR) and Apprentice World Championship.