By Sam Turner -
AS HE CONTINUES TO GROW RACING IN THE EMIRATES
The definition of Collaboration: the process of two or more people, entities or organisations working together to complete a task or achieve a goal. The strength of the wolf is in the pack, so they say and, with five racecourses to oversee, Emirates Racing Authority general manager Mohammad Saeed Al Shehhi certainly believes in an inclusive, rather than exclusive, approach as he looks to grow the sport in the region.
While collaborations require leadership, a sport’s regulator should rarely be seen - much like a football referee - ideally working diligently in the background to ensure the smooth and efficient running of the sport they enhance, protect and govern. In an exclusive interview with Adiyat Racing Plus, Al Shehhi outlines his future plans and how important he views collaboration between all of the parties involved. “We are expecting an exciting season in the UAE, and I think this is the first time where we see a big alignment between racecourses where each course is trying to do something new by giving the racegoer a unique experience,” said Al Shehhi.
“We saw this in Abu Dhabi, and we saw it in Jebel Ali and in Sharjah with the new facilities added and, for the first time, there is a race series which links three racecourses now. “Sharjah, Jebel Ali and Meydan were aligned when the series was put together with the generous direction and contribution from Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid and I think seeing more of that would be very exciting. “We want courses to work together, we want them to collaborate as it makes the whole product stronger.
“This year was the first year that we launched the whole condition book two months in advance, and we took feedback from everyone. We left a few races unwritten so that we could see the demand for races and satisfy that demand. That’s a flexibility that the ERA just started, and I think that’s good for racing.” Not everything is plain sailing though – governing a sport like horse racing never can be – but under Al Shehhi’s innovative leadership, the ERA is making giant strides. “We worked on a lot of the different aspects of racing here as we wanted the product to be interesting and attractive to the locals and to the ex-pats who are living here in Dubai.
“We wanted people to enjoy an easier way of life when it comes to horse racing. By that I mean we wanted to make ownership easy, and we wanted more owners to come so we created syndication to be officially available in Dubai. We also created the rule for joint trainers and have added more than 15-20 trainers to the racing scene in my time here.” So how is the best way to sustain and grow the sport in the region? One answer might be a funding model from betting.
“I think Sheikh Rashed, the Vice-Chairman of the ERA, was quoted in a Bloomberg interview a couple of years ago saying that he would not say no to gaming, but maybe at the right time,” said Al Shehhi. “If it was to be introduced then it would be a great support for the sport. If you look at racing in Hong Kong, then you can see how their sport is supported by betting and it is how racing can sustain itself.
“If it was to come in, then it would be another source of funding for the racecourses and maybe, it would mean we could have more races, more racing, more stables, more owners, even more racecourses.” One challenge the ERA have faced in recent times is the launch of its new website, developed in partnership with Weatherbys. It is fair to say there have been teething problems since the switch from the previous site, with many users encountering issues. Weatherbys have returned to the UAE to oversee the improvements under the guidance of CEO Russell Ferris and Al Shehhi believes the site will begin to come together in the ensuing weeks.
“The new website is a teaser of what is coming. The whole website will be ready by the year end. It is powered by Weatherbys in the UK and it will be very unique,” he said. “The website has presented challenges, and I’m not entirely happy with where we are at present, but we are proud of our partnership with Weatherbys and both parties are working hard to overcome the challenges the new website has presented.” For his part, Weatherbys supremo Ferris is committed to ironing out the issues which have blighted the site since its recent launch.
“As Mohammad has said, the website will evolve in the next couple of months as we complete the final touches, and we look forward to the 2023-24 season and beyond,” said Ferris. “The database is extensive, and this is the fourth data migration project they have had since racing began internationally in the UAE so that means any large digital transportation project comes with its challenges.
“We’ve got a wonderful team in the ERA supporting with the business user element of it and, from our perspective, we have many years of experience in racing administration and software development, so we hope it’s coming together nicely, but these things take time. “There are many, many moving parts to this website, but we know the challenges and they are well documented.
“There is progress to be made and the feedback we’ve received about the site aesthetically is good, now we’ve got to work on the content. “We are delighted to be involved with the Emirates Racing Authority and we hope it is a partnership which we hope to extend for many years to come.”