Horowitz On OTTBs Presented by Excel Equine: A Huge Opportunity For Former Arabian Racehorses In The UAE - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Horowitz On OTTBs Presented by Excel Equine: A Huge Opportunity For Former Arabian Racehorses In The UAE

MH Lazzaz has gone from winning races to ribbons

The success of the Arabian Sport Horse Championship is going to change the image of one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. The impact that this event can make is similar to what the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover has done for the Thoroughbred breed.

“The Arabian Sport Horse Championship is the best thing [that] could have been organized for our ex-racehorses in UAE,” said Elise Jeanne, a race trainer in the UAE who participated in the 2023 ASHC in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, on May 6. “Arabians have always been famous for their versatility. They have been used to improve different breeds. The ASHC is the key to a better future for our horses in UAE.”

There's a lot of similarity between the ASHC and the Thoroughbred Makeover, and both are proving to be incredibly valuable for the horse racing industry to support. They both put the spotlight on racehorses competing in new careers.

“Started in 2016, ASHC was aware of the large number of Arabian horses in the country, particularly for racing and endurance,” said Diana Abousleiman, ASHC Marketing and Communications Manager. “ASHC recognized the need to be responsible in providing alternative opportunities dedicated to the breed beyond these careers.”

The ASHC represents the vision of founder Sheikha Hissa Bint Sultan Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan for “promoting responsibility for their care and futures beyond their primary careers,” said Abousleiman. The “primary careers” for Arabians in the UAE are flat racing and endurance racing.

The ASHC takes place in Arabian-centric Abu Dhabi at the Boudheib Equestrian Academy, home to the largest indoor horse arena in the world measuring a staggering 250 meters (approximately 820 feet) by 65 meters (approximate 210 feet). That's a four-acre riding space. The Thoroughbred Makeover takes place in Thoroughbred-centric Lexington, Ky.,, at the iconic Kentucky Horse Park, home to some of the biggest equestrian competitions in the United States.

Just like how the Thoroughbred Makeover offers a variety of disciplines to spotlight the versatility of the Thoroughbred, so does the ASHC for the Arabian, including dressage, show jumping, arena eventing, and, for the first time in 2023, barrel racing. MH Lazzaz, whom Jeanne trained during a 66-race career from 2011 to 2019, actually competed in every discipline. The now 15-year-old chestnut gelding was “one of the stars of 2023,” according to Abousleiman.

MH Lazzaz wins the Longines Dolce Vita Handicap at Sharjah in the UAE on Dec. 17, 2016. The chestnut gelding has remained with trainer Elise Jeanne during his racehorse and sporthorse careers

“Lazzaz showed so much enthusiasm and talent for his new career as a sporthorse, not only winning and placing in many of our sponsored jumping classes in the run-up to our main event but also by competing in all the class disciplines including jumping, arena eventing, dressage, and barrel racing at our main event,” she said.

MH Lazzaz was part of the MH Stable team that won the Versatility Team Championship title by accumulating the most points across all classes of competition. The team managed and coached by Jeanne included: MH Lazzaz ridden by Alexandra Grant, MH Dorzen ridden by Anna Salakhutdinova, MH Mayar ridden by Sabine Buschen, and MH Sabi ridden by Savannah Glanville.

“At MH Stable, we breed horses over 20 years now, and we feel responsible for them,” Jeanne said. “Seeing the light again in their eyes is priceless. They are bred to be athletes and they love competition.”

The two teams from MH Stable that competed in the 2023 ASHC

I got to experience this firsthand when I was in the United Arab Emirates in March covering the Dubai World Cup for the Arabian Jockey Club. The day after the Dubai World Cup, I went with Elise to Ajman to see some of her retired racehorses at MH Stable. She was coaching students in a show jumping lesson. I asked if there was anything I could do to help, and Elise read my mind knowing that I'd want to hop on a horse. She put me on MH Seena, a 7-year-old chestnut mare that made nine starts at four different tracks in the UAE from 2019 to 2020.

Elise told me that Seena was new to jumping, and the mare communicated that to me as well when she took long stares and a few skittish steps going past the show jump standards and rails set in the arena when we started our ride. By the end of the ride, I was in love. Seena was so incredibly honest, and after being given the opportunity to process what I was asking her to do, she gained confidence and proceeded to put together her first ever course of multiple jumps. “We're done,” I told Elise after the round in the video below, and Seena exuded confidence standing in the arena waiting for the other horses and riders to finish their training. Then, she walked back to her stall with some pep in her step. Winning over the chestnut mare was a great feeling and one of my riding highlights so far this year.

So, fast forward six weeks, and I woke up in the middle of the night on Saturday, May 6, in Mount Pleasant, Utah, where I was announcing The Event at Skyline. May 6 would be one of the biggest days of the year for equestrian sports with the Kentucky Derby and Badminton Horse Trials taking place at the highest level of their respective disciplines of racing and eventing. However, the competition I was honestly looking forward to the most that day was the ASHC. Seena was part of a second team from MH Stable, which brought eight horses and riders to the horse show.

I watched the livestream and witnessed what an incredible success the ASHC was in its first year back since 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic. From 32 horses competing in 2019 to 91 in 2023. From 58 entries in 2019 (accounting for horses competing in multiple classes) to 103 in 2023. The ASHC was broadcast across the UAE on YAS TV. Imagine if the Thoroughbred Makeover was broadcast by NBC Sports or Fox Sports.

“For 2023, we had a dedicated ASHC team working on the promotion and organization,” Abousleiman said. “ASHC-sponsored classes for pure- and part-bred Arabians were held at clubs throughout the UAE in the months leading up to the event. The event was heavily promoted directly in the UAE equestrian community and on social media. For the event, we increased the number of classes from four to 15, and yes, we introduced barrel racing for the first time in the region. It was actually the single most popular class! Prize money was increased to 170,000 AED, by far our biggest total amount yet. There was a team competition for the first time. We also had the event set up for spectators with f&b options, live entertainment, children's activities, and trade stands.”

Converting dirhams to dollars, there was more than $45,000 up for grabs, and the substantial prize money is another similarity between ASHC and the Thoroughbred Makeover. The levels offered reflect where the Arabians are at in their retraining, similar to how the RRP organizes the Makeover. For example, at ASHC, the three jumping levels are: 50-70 centimeters, 70-90 centimeters, and 90-110 centimeters.

Ahmed Saddah and C Bambina jumping at the 2023 ASHC

In addition to the successes of the horses and riders from MH Stable, another highlight was Asmr W'rsan ridden by Hasan Ali Al Saiari to first-place finishes in both arena eventing at 90-110 centimeters and barrel racing, as well as a third-place finish in show jumping at 90-110 centimeters. It doesn't get much more versatile than that. Omar Abdulaziz Al Marzouqi, who has qualified to be on the UAE show jumping team at the 2024 Olympics, competed.

The ASHC is poised to grow in 2024 with an expanded format over two days and more than 500,000 AED in prize money, the equivalent of $136,150.

From announcing and producing stories for the Thoroughbred Makeover, I've seen how that event has revolutionized the image of and opportunities for Thoroughbred racehorses. The ASHC is set to do the same for Arabian racehorses.

Announcing horse races inspired Jonathan Horowitz to become an advocate for off-track Thoroughbreds and Arabians, as well as to learn to event on horses he used to announce at the track. He also serves as Acting Director for the Arabian Jockey Club and runs the Super G Sporthorses eventing barn with his wife, Ashley. He can be reached on Facebook and Twitter at @jjhorowitz.

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