Dubai: With four decades of racing experience to show on his CV, it is easy to assume Dubai Racing Club’s Racing Adviser Michael Wanklin knows the nuts and bolts of the sport.
He started out as a handicapper in Zimbabwe and rose to international prominence working as a senior handicapper in his native South Africa and then onward to his appointment as Vice-President of Racing with the Singapore Turf Club (STC), a position in which he performed admirably during his nine years turning the country into one of the world’s top racing jurisdictions.
Wanklin arrived in the UAE ahead of the start of the season from his base in Malaysia, having been brought in on a season-long contract to fill the void created by the departure of the long-serving Frank Gabriel Jr.
Ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Dubai World Cup, Gulf News caught up with the South African to find out more about his first season in the job.
Can you tell us more about your role as Racing Adviser and if there is a set term for which you have been appointed?
Basically, it is to bring my expertise obviously and to assist and advise the Board and staff team at the Dubai Racing Club (DRC) for the 2020-21 race season in all aspects of horse racing and management of stables, the racetrack, the Dubai World Cup Carnival and the Dubai World Cup race meeting. Currently, I am engaged on a seasonal contract for the 2020/21 season.
Having worked a season here and experienced things first hand, what are your thoughts going forward with racing here and your position as DRC Racing Adviser?
First off it has been a great experience, I have been very impressed with how the management and staff have accepted me and their help in navigating through the work processes has been invaluable. Going forward I have a few ideas that I believe can elevate certain aspects of the racing product which I will discuss with my team and management once we have completed the Dubai World Cup meeting and finished off the season.
Having a pandemic to deal with would have brought with it its own challenges, especially when ensuring quality for the international half of the season from the DWC Carnival onwards to the Dubai World Cup. How did you handle this?
Obviously, the pandemic has caused a tremendous disruption to all walks of life around the globe. Clearly this affected the ability of racing personnel to travel easily and this did impact the participation during the carnival meetings. However, the response to invitations for the Dubai World Cup meeting has been tremendous and we are extremely appreciative of the overseas connections wanting to participate this year despite the understandable difficulties.
DRC has a lofty status to uphold in terms of global racing. Does that bring added pressure on you?
Having been Vice-President with the Singapore Turf Club for nine years this advisory role at DRC is very similar. I do not feel that there is added pressure with this position — as with any new position for me it is mainly the evolutionary process of getting to know the various new personalities that I’ll be engaging with and adapting to the way things are done here.
Have you had a working relationship with racing in the UAE before?
I have, on a couple of occasions, been involved in the selection process for the Dubai World Cup race meeting. I have also had frequent occasions to be in international meetings with officials from the Dubai Racing Club and the Emirates Racing Authority.
What’s your opinion of racing in the UAE compared with South Africa and other centres such as Singapore where you’ve worked?
Racing here is obviously world-class and it is quite special that the timing of the Dubai season really fills a global gap in the racing calendar. The conduct of race meetings is extremely thorough and well-managed. I find that the sponsorship aspect in Dubai Racing is top-class and the level of support of such iconic companies with the racing scene here is unique.
Obviously, you are well-versed with racing in the UAE and the standards set here. Any plans to change or tweak a few things?
I came with open eyes and understandably I will be inclined to orientate procedures to what I am used to and believe to work efficiently. Obviously, it is a progressive application and I would not intend to make dramatic changes. Where I see areas of possible improvement, I will discuss with the Board and implement things if they are agreed upon. Hopefully, I can bring a fresh view to the organisation and that I can help push DRC to an even higher standard.
Any plans to align racing with other regional jurisdictions such as Bahrain and Saudi?
It is definitely on my agenda to broker strong cooperative relationships through the region for the betterment of racing in the area as a whole. First, though, I need to establish the dynamics of how these jurisdictions relate and interact with each other.
How do you relax away from the track?
In many ways horse racing is one of my hobbies. I really enjoy the spectacle of thoroughbreds in action — particularly the superstars we see every year through the Dubai World Cup Carnival and on Dubai World Cup night. The handicapping aspect is still very enjoyable to me. I enjoy playing golf when I get an opportunity and watching sport and follow world news. Listening to heavy and symphonic metal music is also a favourite pastime activity. I’m quite a sociable fellow and enjoy the company of like-minded friends.