What does it take to win one of the world's richest races? If you ask the team at Zabeel Stables in Dubai, it takes a horse that is sound of mind, body and soul. Exhibit A: Zabeel Racing International's Reynaldothewizard, winner of the $2 million Golden Shaheen-UAE-1.
Like an oasis situated amidst a vast expanse of the most modern cityscape imaginable, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Zabeel Stable is an immaculately-manicured equestrian facility boasting lawns of lush green grass, vibrantly colored flowers, state of the art facilities, and some of the happiest and most well-cared-for horses on earth.
His highness has always been an enthusiastic fan and participant of equestrian sports. Aside from his country holding the richest horserace in the world, today's $10 million Dubai World Cup, Sheikh Mohammed owns the world-renowned Thoroughbred breeding establishment, Darley, which boasts world-class equine accommodations in the U. S., Australia, England, Ireland, and Japan. In addition to standing stallions and raising racing stock, Sheikh Mohammed's Darley manages the global racing interests of the Maktoum family.
Outside of horseracing, Sheikh Mohammed and his family have participated in countless equestrian disciplines. He himself has competed in the best endurance races in the world, including the 2010 World Equestrian Games, the global championships of equestrian competition.
His wife, HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein is equally immersed in equestrian sports. She represented her native country of Jordan in show jumping at the 2002 World Equestrian Games and the 2000 Summer Olympics and since 2006 has served as the president of the International Equestrian Federation.
As one might expect, people whose passion for horses runs so deep are equally passionate about the level of care their horses receive. Nowhere is this more evident than at their Zabeel Stables.
One of the most exclusive stables in the world, Zabeel allows guests by invite only and is the blueprint of UAE racing. Zabeel was built in 1992 and was designed to be the most horse-friendly environment possible. Today it is home to approximately 120 horses in training, including up and coming two-year-olds, horses rehabilitating from injuries, and several Dubai World Cup contenders, including Godolphin Mile entrant Surfer, and 2013 Golden Shaheen winner Reynaldothewizard.
Trainer Satish Seemar, who oversees Zabeel operations for Sheikh Mohammed, explained that the focus is not only on the horses' physical well-being, but on soundness of both mind and body.
"You will find the horses at Zabeel are very happy," said Satish. "They swim, they get whirlpool treatments in the equine spa with minerals and salts, they train, all in a calm, relaxed environment."
Satish went on to explain that, for example, in the winter months he has each horse brought outside on the lawns for its daily grooming, so they can enjoy some extra time in the sunshine.
"One groom will hold the horse, while another grooms them," said Satish.
Assistant trainer Bhupat Seemar added that the focus of every aspect of Zabeel is on the comfort of the horse, both physically and mentally.
"Zabeel is a well landscaped environment with plenty of open spaces and visual stimulation for the horses, with state of the art training facilities," explained Bhupat. "It's a very peaceful place, no hustle or bustle. All horses can see not only their stable mates, but have a 24 hour view of the world outside. It is very important to keep the horses mentally sound as well as physically; the two go hand in hand with success."
As you stroll down the immaculate isle ways of the stable, the results are glaringly evident. The horses of Zabeel are the epitome of physical fitness, with glowing coats and rippling muscles, yet they all seem to have an air of calm about them, enjoying their hay as they gaze out of the windows at the pristine grounds, framed by the daunting city skyline just beyond the stable's perimeter.
"The success of the methods used at Zabeel, such as the swimming pool and equine spa, can be seen in the longevity of the horses' racing careers," said Bhupat. A prime example of that theory was the impressive win by seven-year-old Reynaldothewizard, who is based at Zabeel and makes use of the facility's alternatives to daily track work.
Some of the key features of Zabeel are the 100 air-conditioned stalls and forty outdoor stalls, a private nine furlong sand-based training track and two other smaller training tracks, one of which is a synthetic surface.
"[The smaller training tracks] are primarily used for younger horses that are just starting their racing careers," explained Bhupat. "It allows horses to have an experience of both conventional dirt tracks and artificial surfaces."
The facility also boasts two spacious riding arenas, a 100 meter long equine swimming pool, an equine spa, a treadmill, 10 turnout paddocks, a treadmill, and quarantine facilities.
"Each horse has its own unique training and feeding program; horses are assessed as individuals on arrival and the program is drawn up accordingly," explained Bhupat. "Morning exercises commence around 6:00a.m., and each horse is out daily for at least one hour according to its personal training program."
Equal attention is paid to how each horse is ridden, and careful attention is paid to matching the right rider with each horse.
"Every work rider at Zabeel has different skills as a rider and riders are selected for particular horses depending on what the type of ride the horse is, again catering to the horses' personal needs. We have a wealth of experience with all our staff, from countries ranging from Brazil, France, UK, Ireland, Germany, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and Nepal."
Both Bhupat and Sateesh gave example after example of the deep and unique relationship the people of the UAE have with their horses.
"We race purely for the love of the game and the relationship between horse and owner is very strong," explained Bhupat. There is a definite difference between the way people think of their horses in the UAE," said Bhupat. "There is no gambling involved in horse racing here and the use of drugs is also banned in Dubai, which keeps our sport clean. Our program results in the longevity of their racing careers."
Jen Roytz is the marketing and communications director at Three Chimneys Farm in Central Kentucky.