An excited Stephen Gray is venturing into the unknown when he lands in Dubai on Tuesday night, a couple of days ahead of Bahana’s first run at Meydan Racecourse.
Not only has the New Zealand handler never raced a horse in the Middle-East metropolis, he will also be at his first visit there.
Dubai was not really a country high on the agenda for an overseas raid to the 19th-season Kranji trainer, but with not many staying races in the Singapore line-up these days, the shimmering lights from Meydan had some allure.
From tossing up the idea with ownerUntung Joesoef, to checking out the logistics and associated costs if any, and saying let’s do it, Gray is now on the cusp of seeing Bahana running in a place he has only seen on TV and glossy racing magazines.
Gray’s assistant-trainer Mike Shaw is the travelling foreman for Bahana, who is accompanied by stable mate and race rival Newlands, and going by the South African horseman’s account, the duo have settled in well there since two Saturdays ago (January 27). Former professional jockey Andy Ismail is their trackwork rider.
Gray is certainly reassured by the positive updates so far, but the real acid test still remains the US$160,000 REACH by Gulf News over 2000m on turf slated as the last of seven races to go this Thursday, at 10pm Dubai time.
“I’ve never been to Dubai, but I know they have wonderful facilities, nice green paddocks where the horses can have a pick of grass,” he said. “I will see all that when I go to the track tomorrow morning.
“The two horses travelled well; they lost a bit of weight on the way there but have quickly put it back on. They have thrived since.
“There are no races for these two here. The Dubai races have come at the right time for them to do well there.
“They galloped together on the main turf track on Saturday and went really well. Bernard Fayd’Herbe rode Bahana and Andy rode Newlands, but Bernard is a heavyweight jockey and won’t be able to ride Bahana at 56kgs – I’ve booked the Dubai champion jockey instead, Tadhg O’Shea, and John Egan on Newlands.
“Andy is the one who has been riding them for the slower work. He’s never been away and he’s excited to be there.”
Gray added that it was exactly that buzz of a new adventure which is the driving force behind travelling horses halfway around the world.
“That’s why we wake up early in the morning to do this. There is always a dream you can have a horse running overseas, I’m so excited to be involved,” said Gray.
“We are in the industry for the passion, and it’s also fun for the owner. It’s something different, but you must also have the right horse to travel the world.
“I don’t know much about the opposition other than Gilt Complex (who beat Bahana by a nose in last year’s Dester Singapore Gold Cup). The fact we are competing against horses worth hundreds of thousands is already an achievement in itself.
“Bahana cost $90,000 and Newlands $110,000. Gilt Complex cost even less I believe. It means we are doing all right, aren’t we?
“Hopefully on the day, my horses are good enough.”
Gray said that first assignment would hopefully not be their last in Dubai, win lose or draw.
“There is another meeting in three weeks’ time. I’m looking at a 2400m race for Newlands and a 2000m for Bahana, the draw is for today,” said Gray who is flying to Dubai on Tuesday night.
“The owners won’t be there for Thursday’s race but they will be there for the second outing.
“But whatever results the two horses bring, they will be mentally and physically better for it when they come back here.”
Thursday’s race will see 15 horses face the starter, mainly home-based horses and as many as six Godolphins, probably headed by the two Charlie Appleby’s Banksea and Blair House. With ratings adjusted to 103 and 100 for Bahana and Newlands respectively, Bahana will carry 56.5kgs and Newlands 55kgs.
Barrier-wise, the Singapore trio have not fared very well with Bahana in nine, Gilt Complex in 11 and Newlands in 12, but it is not as critical as the 2000m start is effected from down a chute towards a long 1000m backstraight.. - STC