Abu Dhabi: It is a well-known fact that the best Purebred Arabian horses are in action in the UAE. With the growing focus on breeding in the country and the many initiatives to promote ladies in the racing fraternity, Saleha Al Ghurair has carved out a name for herself as the first-ever Emirati lady flat-horse trainer.
Saleha, who was given a professional trainer’s license just last year, finally reaped the reward when two of her horses won in the penultimate race meeting of the current UAE season. While Mh Thirteen won his race, Mh Areeb was involved in a dead heat with Al Waqqad and two wins in two races at Sharjah was ample reward to the lady who is an Architect by profession.
Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview during the final race meeting at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club, Saleha said she is now hoping to achieve bigger success in the coming years.
Gulf News: An architect training Purebred Arabian horses, and the first UAE lady trainer, how did this happen?
Saleha Al Ghurair: Yes I am an architect and I have my own practice. But it was about six years ago when I was helping my son and his friends learn endurance riding. I used to ride and I became en endurance trainer and then last year I got my license for flat-race training. My husband Abdul Aziz Al Muhairy, who is a breeder, and everyone at the Emirates Racing Association supported and helped me in this endeavour. I am proud to be the first lady trainer from the UAE.
GN: Where are you based and do you own horses?
SAG: We have a breeding farm in Abu Dhabi and we have about eight broodmares. All Purebred Arabian horses. We have a good turf facility and some real hard ground where I used to initially train them. But now His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai has given me a stable in Seih Assalam and thanks to him I do both my endurance and flat-race training there. It has been such a great gesture and has been a huge encouragement to me.
GN: You opened your account with two wins in Sharjah. Were you expecting those winners?
SAG: First of all I was so happy and proud when Mh Thirteen won. Then, in the very next race, Mh Areeb also won, though it was a dead heat with Al Waqqad. Both winners are horses owned by my relative Mansour Khalifa Sultan Bin Habtoor.
I was happier that my first wins came in Sharjah for this is where I started my endurance riding and I have received a lot of support from my trainer friends based in Sharjah.
GN: Will you be training on Purebred Arabians or will you also train thoroughbreds?
SAG: Well I also had a thoroughbred in training with me. It is a good experience and I am learning. Of course they are different but in the end they are all horses.
GN: How does it feel now being a full-fledged race horse trainer and competing with professionals from around the world?
SAG: One of the main reasons I am here as a trainer is because of the constant support that the Rulers and leaders in the UAE give to equestrian sport which is part of our heritage and culture. It is still the initial stages and I am learning every day. Looking forward to more success in the coming years.
GN: What is your experience as a breeder of Arabian horses?
SAG: I have about six foals every year. The support is good. But we need more support in the form of more races open only to UAE-bred horses. When some of my horses race against the US and French-bred Arabians, our horses hardly have any experience. Particularly as four and five-year-olds they don’t have the same racing experience like the foreign-bred Arabians who comes here with 8 to 10 runs.
GN: Any targets or dreams as a trainer?
SAG: Well I almost got very close to having a runner in the Dubai Kahayla Classic on Dubai World Cup night. My horse Mh Al Wadi improved to Group 2 rating of 85 and finished fourth against some fancied Group 1 rivals in the Group 2 Bani Yas. He ran in the Third Round of the Al Maktoum Challenge (Group 1) on Super Saturday and was the only UAE-bred horse in a strong field of Group 1 and Classic winners but I feel the jockey did not do enough and held him for a long period and he finished 9th and lost his chance to clinch a place on Dubai World Cup night. Hopefully he will improve further and next year will challenge for the big races. Yes the target is to get some runners on Dubai World Cup meeting and then try and win it.