'I work seven days a week': the enduring devotion of Godolphin's longest-serving trainer

In an exclusive interview, Newmarket-based Saeed bin Suroor discusses horses, high stakes, and his love for his adopted home

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As the setting sun casts a warm glow over Newmarket, Saeed bin Suroor works walks around the renowned Stanley House Stables, checking on the horses that will front his Royal Ascot campaign next week. It is his favourite meeting and his preparations are meticulous.

Among them is Real World, the current standard bearer for the yard which is one of the most famous racing establishments on the planet and which was once home to Lord Derby.

It is steeped in history, with walls of framed horseshoes under an archway providing a vivid reminder of some of the greatest equine talent over the past century which was trained there.

The stable, complete with manicured lawns and imposing Victorian architecture, is now owned by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid for whom Bin Suroor, 53, has trained for for the past 30 years.

They have enjoyed a close relationship from the time of their first meeting in Dubai in 1992. Bin Suroor is one of two Godolphin trainers based in England alongside Charlie Appleby. Between them they have helped to propel Sheikh Mohammed’s operation into the global powerhouse it is today.

“He is my leader and an inspiration to me and his people,” Bin Suroor said of the Ruler of Dubai.

“He is so kind and he will always look after you. He is very loyal.”

Bin Suroor first came to Britain in 1995 and made an immediate impact as his horses claimed the biggest prizes on offer including the Derby with Lammtarra as well as the Oaks and the St Leger. Major races fell to him almost as a matter of routine; 12 Classics in all.

Over the following nine years he was champion trainer on four occasions. The horses he sent out read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of racing from around the turn of the century with the likes of Dubai Millennium, Daylami, Mark of Esteem and Halling as well as the aforementioned Lammtarra. “It was magical,” Bin Suroor said. “The horses were just superb.“

Horse Racing - Dubai World Cup - Meydan Racecourse, Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 30, 2019  Dubai's Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Prime Minister and Vice-President of the United Arab Emirates gestures during the trophy presentation for the Dubai World Cup Sponsored By Emirates Airline alongside trainer Saeed bin Suroor   REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

However, since those glory years his star has waned somewhat. That is not an indictment of Bin Suroor’s ability, more a recognition that a trainer is only as good as the ammunition he has at his disposal. As with any sport, fortunes change.

And in recent times it is Appleby, who started life as Bin Suroor’s travelling head lad and who he holds in high esteem who has held the upper hand. “He is my friend; I like him, he is a very nice man,” he continued. “He has super horses, a different class to anything anywhere in the world.“

Bin Suroor’s most recent Classic success was in 2009 but his enthusiasm and ambition remain undimmed and a record nine victories in the Dubai World Cup have helped to dispel any sense of disappointment at events in Britain.

Over coffee in his office after evening stables the ever-smiling Bin Suroor mulls over the ebb and flow of his career which has included 2,000 victories around the world, 194 at Group 1 level. By any standard it is a phenomenal achievement.

Born in Dubai in 1968, horses had been in his family’s blood for generations. “We grew up with our eyes open and all we saw in front of us was horses. It was great,” explained Bin Suroor who has 10 children and nine grandchildren.

At the age of 23 he became a trainer looking after horses for family and friends. His exploits came to the attention of Sheikh Mohammed.

“He asked people, ‘Who is this guy?,’ Bin Suroor explained. “He wanted to know more. Then one day he asked me to train for him. I said, ‘Yes.’ From that moment in early 1993 my life changed.

”In the old days when Sheikh Mohammed came here, he would come round at evening stables. I would say, ‘Sir, this is a six time Group 1 winner, this is a five time Group 1 winner. When there was a Group 2 we didn’t show the horse to him. It was not that important to us.

“But a Group 2 now is very important to my stable. Things have changed.”

Saeed bin Suroor at the Godolphin stables in Newmarket. Mark Chilvers / The National

Not that he feels under pressure. “Sheikh Mohammed is a great man. Very patient, very fair. He will always support you even if the results are not great. He will say, ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, things will change.

”I always worried about results and what would happen if I didn’t have winners. But when we win he smiles, when we lose he smiles. He says, ‘You don’t have to worry about things. That is horse racing.’

“But as trainers we are always very hungry, always looking for something good. It is a very tough game. You have to be very patient. It can be very difficult to deal with sometimes. But things change and I am very patient. I love racing, I love horses. I have to go with the flow.”

Bin Suroor’s commitment is total. It has to be. “You have one owner who is your supporter so you have to give him everything. In almost 30 years I haven’t taken a holiday. We work seven days a week. I do nothing else. I have never ever been to any football game or any sports stadium in Britain.

”I have been in England for 28 seasons. I love museums, English culture it is beautiful. England is my home. I have lived here more than I did in Dubai. I love Newmarket with a deep heart.“

Every day starts in effect in the middle of the night. He holds up his iPhone which shows the alarm set for 3.30am. It is the same routine every single day. His annual routine also follows a familiar pattern. After seven months in England during the summer, and depending on the talent at his disposal he travels to the USA, then Australia and Hong Kong before returning to the Al Quoz yard in Dubai for the winter where racing resumes. Two days after the Dubai World Cup in March he moves back to England with his string to prepare for the upcoming season.

At Ascot, Real World will contest the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, the opening race of a meeting which will hold particular resonance this year as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. He renews rivalry with Baeed the unbeaten superstar trained by William Haggas who beat him in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury. Other entries include Shining Blue in the Wolverton Stakes, Dubai Mirage in the Royal Hunt Cup for which Stunning Beauty also holds an entry as well as in the Kensington Palace Stakes. Dubai Future is in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes.

How long can he keep going? Ten years?. “No! More. I love it. It is my passion it is my life. I could do another 25 years.”

He remains philosophical about his prospects. “I understand this life. Horses teach you how to be patient. If there is something wrong with a horse you have to wait, sometimes a year or even two to look after them. You learn a lot from horses."

One can hope that for him that warm glow of the evening extends to Ascot and he can bask in renewed success once again.

Updated: June 10, 2022, 6:00 PM
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