Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 September 2020

There's no place like Dubai for UAE racing's unsung hero Wayne Mason

Journey that began as work rider in 1992 continues at Zabeel Stables

Wayne Mason, the travelling headman of Zabeel Stables. Antonie Robertson / The National
Wayne Mason, the travelling headman of Zabeel Stables. Antonie Robertson / The National

Wayne Mason is one of the unsung heroes of UAE racing. With over 27 years of experience, he has witnessed the industry grow by “leaps and bounds” in the country.

The Chennai resident arrived in Dubai on 23 September 1992 with little more than a suitcase full of clothes to take up an appointment as a work rider for trainer Dhruba Selvaratnam at Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid’s Jebel Ali Stables.

“I have come a long way from how and where I started in racing,” Mason told The National of his life-changing journey since arriving in Dubai.

“When I first entered the Jebel Ali racecourse, it was just desert all around. If someone had told me at that time, what was going to happen in horse racing, I would have never believed it.

“Dubai has been very kind to me. I have seen racing as well as the country develop by leaps and bounds. It provided me the opportunity to build my own life, into something that I would have never have imagined when I first got into the industry.

“In work, I get immense satisfaction. I’m established and well settled in my family life. I’m ever so grateful to Dubai and I want to stay here as long as possible.

“I can’t think of any place that would give me so much in life. I could have moved out to Europe, America or Australia with the contacts I built here, but I never felt like leaving Dubai.”

Mason, 49, remained faithful to his employer for 25 years until Selvaratnam retired in August 2017.

“He (Selvaratnam) opened many doors for me for which I am ever so thankful to him,” Mason, who moved to Satish Seemar’s Zabeel Stables two months after Selvaratnam left, said.

Selvaratnam had an eye for spotting talent early. He noticed Mason’s abilities and provided him the spare rides from the very first season when racing was staged under Racing Rules in 1992/1993.

Australian jockey Miles Plumb was Jebel Ali’s stable jockey and Mason supplemented him. He rode three thoroughbred winners that year, including a double in the first race meeting under lights at Nad Al Sheba.

Mason’s double was achieved on board the Selvaratnam-trained Nemir and Michael Kettle’s Viking Prince in the in the six-race card.

That was the highlight of Mason’s riding career in the UAE. He rode for 10 years but had the least fancied horses as professional jockeys began to arrive from the second season.

“Mr Selvaratnam provided me the schooling to develop my knowledge in the industry,” he said.

“He sent me to Irish trainer John Oxx for six weeks for training and experience in 1994 and again to Mick Channon in England for another six weeks in 2007.

“I also had the good fortune to travel with the stables horses to Qatar, Lebanon, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and the USA (Belmont Park).”

Mason, who now works as travelling headman, believes everyone who came to Dubai for racing benefitted in the long run.

“Even the top jockeys used Dubai as a springboard,” he said referring to the likes of Pat Smullen, Johnny Murtagh, Willie Supple, Brett Doyle, William Buick, James Doyle, Chris Hayes and current British champion Oisin Murphy, who rode for Selvaratnam over the years.

Mason’s journey in the industry began in June 1985 when he joined the Apprentice Jockey’s School of Madras Race Club.

He was the first and only member from a family of six girls and three boys to enter racing.

“One of my father’s close friends was working at the Madras Race club and every time he saw me, he would tell my parents I will make a good jockey,” he said.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 13 APRIL 2020. Wayne Mason, the travelling headman of the Zabeel stables. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Amith Passela. Section: Sport.
Wayne Mason wants to become a pastor when he returns to India. Antonie Robertson / The National

“He was a band leader and my father was a dance (ballroom) organiser. The Madras Race Club had an advertisement in a local daily and my parents told me to apply.

“Before I joined the jockey’s school the only knowledge I had about horses was watching them in cowboy movies and reading comics. I thought they were exciting to ride. I also wanted to get into racing because I didn’t like studies.”

Mason was one of the 12 candidates selected and came under the tutelage of former Indian jockey Ahmed Khan.

He received his apprentice jockey’s licence in 1991 and rode his first winner (Right Time) in the following year for trainer Savarinathan Dominic. He landed in Dubai six months later.

“My mother worked in Dubai at that time and she heard about the Jebel Ali stables expanding for the new season, and submitted my application for a position,” he said.

“I was employed as a work rider but my boss was very pleased with my riding work and he applied for my jockey’s licence in the UAE the same time I joined,” he said.

Mason’s last wish when he leaves Dubai is to build a small church and become a pastor back in India.

“Even now, I spend time in God’s work as much as possible or teaching my family to read the Bible, whenever time permits,” Mason, who lives in Dubai with his wife and two children Daniel (16) and Hannah (13) said.

“I believe I’m gifted with preaching. Actually, that is my passion more than racing. I’m more interested in the church and work of God.”

Updated: April 17, 2020 08:42 AM

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