Halawani’s diligence spurs return of top-flight racing at Jebel Ali - GulfToday

Halawani’s diligence spurs return of top-flight racing at Jebel Ali


With four races still remaining in Jebel Ali’s racing calendar — including the prestigious Jebel Ali Sprint and Jebel Ali Stakes — Shareef Al Halawani, manager, Jebel Ali Racecourse, promises a perfect end to the season.

Amir Naqvi, Sports Editor

Untiring efforts of the Jebel Ali Racecourse management finally paid off as the venue put all concerns regarding its racing surface behind and successfully hosted the biggest race of their season, the 1600m Group 3 Jebel Ali Mile on Friday.

The team, led by Shareef Al Halawani, manager, Jebel Ali Racecourse, worked overtime to fix all the issues and get a thumbs up from the stewards, trainers, jockeys and sponsors after the seven-race card meeting passed off smoothly, marking a remarkable comeback.

This was the first meeting hosted by Jebel Ali since the last week of November when racing had been temporarily suspended after an inspection by a team comprising officials from the Emirates Racing Authority (ERA), and jockeys, following a complaint by a group of jockeys, who approached ERA stewards on a matter concerning track safety. The riders then had found the track unsafe due to the kickback phenomenon throughout the entire surface of the track.

However, the ERA gave their green signal on Monday when they conducted an inspection of the track surface while utilising 13 horses to assess the safety and kickback of the track after which the surface was passed suitable for racing.

As they say, hard work pays off. Halawani, who was the project engineer of the track when Sheikh Ahmed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, then Deputy Chief of Dubai Police, built the Jebel Ali Racecourse and the adjoining stable in 1990, endured sleepless nights to ensure racing returns to the track at the earliest.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf Today, Halawani said: “Thank you for being with us during this difficult period. We were away for 45 days or more, but I think it was necessary to rebuild the track and satisfy the ERA members, jockeys and other stakeholders.

“We have done whatever was necessary to reach the best standards to satisfy all the users of the track. We were so happy today with the order that came from the stewards, besides the jockeys and trainers. Everyone was happy that the work done on the track is to the satisfaction of everybody concerned, especially the jockeys and trainers,” he added.

Four races are still remaining in Jebel Ali’s racing calendar, including the prestigious Jebel Ali Sprint and Jebel Ali Stakes. Promising a perfect end to the season, Halawani said: “We shall endeavour to maintain the best standards always and hopefully we will never have complaints from anyone in the future.

“We were happy to see the fans back at the racecourse. In fact, it was very disheartening to see empty stands as we worked day and night to complete the track refurbishment ahead of schedule. The public is very important for the races, and we were happy today, therefore, to see the fans return in large numbers. We have had a fantastic relationship with all, especially Shadwell, and we hope the problem that resulted in the temporary closure of the track will never repeat itself.

“Track maintenance, therefore, is an issue that will be accorded top priority. Now, the track is in top condition, which will be ensured throughout the season and beyond,” Halawani emphasised.

Halawani, who is associated with the track for the last 27 years, and Jebel Ali Racecourse, never encountered a track closure before.

“I never witnessed such an unfortunate, albeit temporary closure. My relationship with the racecourse is akin to that which a father enjoys with his son or daughter. So when the racing was halted for a few days it was like I was torn apart from my baby.”

Halawani expressed his gratitude to the support of Sheikh Ahmed and everyone on his team at the Jebel Ali Racecourse who were responsible for getting racing back on track at Jebel Ali.

“Sheikh Ahmed told us to take our time, not to worry about cancellation of one or two race days, but to employ the best engineering practices to arrive at the best solution.

“While a lot of experts were consulted, including those from outside, the solution was tailored to suit local conditions.”

Halawani was effusive in giving credit to all on his team and supply staff, including engineers, even operators of the tractors, rollers and other heavy machinery on site.

Leading trainers and jockeys also hailed the return of racing at the Jebel Ali Racecourse.

Tadhg O’Shea, who won the opening 1950m handicap with Hello, the first race on the refurbished surface, said: “It is great to be back at Jebel Ali and you can see from the crowds just how popular it is and how much it has been missed. Credit to the racecourse management; they have done a lot of remedial work and it is much better.”

One of the UAE’s top trainer Satish Seemar, who enjoyed a double with Leading Sprint and Ode to Autumn at Jebel Ali on Friday, said: “It is great to have racing back here at the people’s racecourse.

“It is such a popular venue and was sorely missed. Leading Sprint loves it here and will be back, probably with the Listed Jebel Ali Sprint as his main target,” Seemar added.

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