The Dubai Kahayla Classic, the traditional opener of Dubai World Cup night since the world's richest race meeting was first staged in 1996, has had a significant impact on the standing of Purebred Arabians around the world.
It has emerged as the unofficial World Cup for the breed and provided the platform for the potential of Arabians to be showcased to the racing fraternity.
A milestone will be achieved on Saturday if AF Mathmoon, trained by Musabah Al Muhairi and carrying the silks of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, wins the 21st running of the race.
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Sheikh Hamdan has been a pioneer owner/breeder and patron of Arabian racing worldwide. His Shadwell Farm sponsors meetings and races in Europe and in the UAE.
Sheikh Hamdan privately bought AF Mathmoon from his breeder/owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, and the five-year-old chestnut will be on course to become the first UAE-bred horse to win the US$1 million (Dh3.67m) Group 1 prize.
AF Mathmoon has won five of his six starts, including the Group 1 Liwa Oasis in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, which earned him an invite for the Kahayla.
The horse has not raced beyond 1,600 metres, but if he can stay the 2,000m trip on Saturday, he is well on the way to creating history.
There is an interesting story too behind his breeder, Al Nabooda, an Emirati from a prominent business family. He is allergic to the very animal he devotes his passion to.
“I have asthma,” said the leading local owner and breeder of the Purebred Arabians. “I’m not allowed to go close to the horses but I don’t care. I take medicine and as soon as I touch them I have to wash my hands.”
Al Nabooda has more than 400 horses across four farms in the country and one in France.
“I’m glad to have one of my horses run in the colours of Sheikh Hamdan. It’s a huge boost for my breeding,” he said.
“He’s the first horse bred at the farm to win a Group 1 prize. He’s locally bred and to compete with horses bred overseas is a big challenge.”
Al Nabooda has two horses lined up – AF Lafeh and AF Tawaq – for the Arabian showpiece.
Al Nabooda’s passion for breeding began in the early 1990s, much against the wishes of his parents. He says breeding in the UAE is a challenge.
“Yes, everything is a challenge here. The weather is a challenge, the surface is a challenge. The feed you give to the horse is a challenge. Getting the right people to look after their welfare is a challenge,” he said. “Everything in our country is a challenge and I, too, experienced that challenge. However, I wanted to prove to the world that if you work hard and do things correctly, and with the help of God, you can achieve your goals.”
Pursuing his passion to breed horses was not a smooth journey.
“My family didn’t like me getting into this line although they liked horses,” he said. “Our family didn’t have the heritage of dealing with horses.
“I started back when I was in school. My father was worried that I would be kept away from my studies. But after university I decided to follow my passion. “Only Sheikh Zayed [the founder of the nation] was into breeding then.”
Al Nabooda graduated from Al Ain University in business and accounting. He then travelled to the United States to improve his English. “My father was a great help for me during my developing years,” he said. “He saw me through my education and then allowed me to pursue my passion for horses.”
Al Nabooda attends to his business matters all morning and spends the evenings in one of his farms.
“Sometimes I stay until late at the farm and even sleep there at times,” he said. “I’m very fortunate to find the time to do what I enjoy most. I think I have reached a point where I can enjoy some of the rewards of my work.”
Al Nabooda has yet to send his horses to compete abroad but many of them are being purchased and are competing in some other Gulf states.
Al Nabooda believes the Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Flat Racing Festival has taken Purebred Arabian racing to a new level by staging races in Europe, the US and Australia.
“I represent the UAE at the annual Sheikh Mansour Global Flat Racing conference and we have benefited a lot from it,” he said. “We meet the best breeders, trainers, jockeys of the Purebred Arabians, and exchange ideas.”
According to Al Nabooda, the Purebred Arabians are marketed better than those bred locally.
“The horses bred in Europe are rated better because they market their horses well,” he said.
“Some horses that have not won a race but finish third or fourth come here with rating of 80 to 90. We can also do that but I feel it will not be fair because in Europe, the sole intention is to sell.
“We don’t want to do that here as you might end up cheating with horses who don’t have that ability. It will make all of us breed from that horse which doesn’t have that power.
“Ratings can be improved by competing abroad which I would do at some point. However, I also keep asking myself why I have to do that when other horses are coming here and competing. Having said that I would say we can go with a couple of good horses and compete there.
“The Kahayla Classic is a good platform and for the past six or seven years my horses have been competing in it. They haven’t won but have finished fifth and sixth, which is not bad. I hope a time will come when we can improve that record, if not win.”
Through the President Of The UAE Cup and the HH Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Flat Racing Festival, Arabian racing now operates in 17 countries throughout the world.
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