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Fans are set to return to the horse racing Image Credit: Supplied

The Emirates Racing Authority (ERA) is all set to welcome fans back for its 2021-2022 UAE racing season as the sport moves forward to a covid-free future full of hope and new developments.

Announcing the ‘back to normal’ process Sheikh Rashid bin Dalmouk bin Juma Al Maktoum, Vice Chairman of the ERA, praised the UAE leadership and thanked all stakeholders who contributed to the planning and decision-making in the build-up to the new season.

Addressing a board meeting earlier this week, Sheikh Rashid discussed several ground-breaking initiatives that included an initiative that seeks to nurture Emirati management talent as part of advancing the development of horse racing in the UAE.

Welcoming the decision to resume normal activity at all five UAE racecourses, Sheikh Rashid said: “We greatly missed our fans in the past season, and we look forward to welcoming them back following the go-ahead given by UAE authorities to return to normal operations while comprehensively observing all COVID-19 protocols.

“As we begin to host a series of exciting races and implement new strategic initiatives, we will continue to work with our stakeholders, club management, and relevant authorities to ensure that the return to full capacity crowds at our racecourses is done in a controlled environment that prioritises safety.”

Sheikh Rashid added that a new set of crowd protocols will be announced soon.

DWC trophy
Sheikh Rashid bin Dalmouk bin Juma AL Maktoum, Chairman of Dubai Racing Club, presenting the trophy to Michael Stidham and Hilary Pridham on behalf of Godolphin after Mystic Guide (USA) ridden by the jockey Luis Saez wins the Dubai World Cup race, sponsored by Emirates Airline at Meydan Racecourse. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Highlighting the initiatives for the upcoming season, Sheikh Rashid said he was enthusiastically looking forward to the program that will see Emiratis with high levels of commitment and leadership skills playing a vital role in the governance of racing and all aspects of stewarding functions.

“We already have substantial involvement from Emiratis through racehorse ownership, and as a continuation, we are pleased to be able to extend this opportunity for knowledgeable individuals to help support the regulation and operation on race days.”

Also present at the meeting was Mohammed Saeed Al Shehhi, the recently appointed Director-General of the ERA, Board members, and officials.

Al Shehhi offered his full support for enhancing the growth and development of UAE horse racing according to a well-conceived strategic plan.

He said that the guidelines on crowd protocols during race meetings will be left to the individual clubs. However, the ERA will support them in administering the necessary rules and regulations.

“Guided by the vision of our leaders, the UAE has successfully transitioned past the pandemic to a brighter sustainable future,” Al Shehhi said.

“However, we urge people attending racing events to fully abide by precautionary measures and respect the protocols to create a safe environment at our racecourses.”

Growing horse racing in the Middle East

Considering the role that the Gulf has played in the growth of global horse racing, the ERA is strengthening its partnerships with authorities in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to further develop the sport in the region.

“We are delighted that our partnerships with neighboring countries promote close coordination and united efforts among horse racing authorities,” said Al Shehhi.

“We will expand our cooperation with our counterparts in Gulf countries and share ideas and expertise that will help the sport to develop further and create promising opportunities for the entire horse racing community and equestrian industry.”

Attracting more racegoers

The meeting also reviewed and discussed the recommendations and initiatives proposed at the previous ERA meetings and advised on the follow-up and implementation of key decisions.

The ERA has also opted to provide owners with additional racecourse badges that will allow them to invite friends and family to attend race meetings, which will increase the racing community at UAE racecourses.

Two other important race-related decisions were taken at the meeting including one which will see races being split into two divisions if they receive a large number of declarations.

Subsequently, the ERA will compensate for the prizemoney to be shared, in the case of a split.

For the first time, connections will only need to pay a single-entry fee for a horse entered in multiple races.

Connections are people connected to a horse entered in a race including the owner, trainer, rider, and stable employees.

Unrestricted movement of Carnival horses

Another ground-breaking decision was made to look into the possibility of allowing horses that were entered for the Dubai World Cup Carnival to compete at Pattern race at Abu Dhabi and Jebel Ali Racecourse.

However, this will be subject to quarantine regulations.

Until recently, Carnival horses were only allowed to race at Carnival events at Meydan Racecourse.

New racing secretary and trainer’s committee

On the management side, a decision was taken to appoint a Racing Secretary to manage the drafting of conditions governing races and help coordinate between UAE racecourses and the ERA management. A Trainer’s Committee, that will help connections to communicate with authorities on issues related to racing, will make its debut.

All attendees at the meeting agreed that the Committee will go a long way in helping connections engage with authorities.

New handicapper and race-caller

Al Shehhi also revealed that Mark Bird, the Irish Turf Club handicapper with over 20 years of experience in racing, will be joining the ERA in the same capacity for the 2021-2022 UAE racing season.

In another development, the ERA has appointed South African Alistair Cohen as the English language race caller for the 2021-202 UAE racing season