Apart from the limelight on race days, horses will 'find a way of getting attention' as Sarah Tregoning discovers following the routine of Kandar Du Falgas.
Pampered before the Dubai World Cup
Every morning, like clockwork, the purebred Arabian Kandar Du Falgas can be found lying on his bed of shavings, happily snoozing until he is shaken awake by the barn manager Dion McFadzean.
Every morning, that is, until the day The National's photographer, Mike Young, drags himself from bed at 4am to photograph the 10 year old waking from his slumber.
On that one occasion, Kandar Du Falgas, who will carry Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid's colours in today's Dubai Kahayla Classic, was waiting, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed peering over his stable door.
"It's just so typical," McFadzean said. "He's quite a character. I don't know how he knew that something was different, but of course because that's what we wanted, he was doing the opposite. He was lying down every morning before that and every morning since."
Young finally did manage to catch the old boy having a lie-down but it required a second trip to the trainer Doug Watson's Red Stables in Al Quoz.
It is not that Kandar Du Falgas is a contrary character but as everybody associated with the multiple Group 1 winner will verify, he has something of a cheeky nature.
"He has his routine that he follows every morning," said McFadzean, who has cared for Kandar Du Falgas for five years. "He doesn't like lying down if his bed is dirty, but as soon as his groom has taken out the droppings he will lie down and have a snooze in the morning.
"I often have to go in there and say 'Come on boy, come on, time to get up now' and actually have to shake him awake. Sometimes I give him his Gastroguard [an oral treatment to prevent stomach ulcers] while he's lying there because he doesn't feel like getting up."
The work rider Erika Rasmussen says the handsome Arabian likes to do things his own way.
"He's not at all nasty but he does like to chew on things," she said. "He might give you a little nip but it's out of playfulness rather than viciousness.
"When I get legged up on him he will get hold of the leading rope in his mouth so even though the groom has unclipped the rope, Kandar will still be dragging him around. They have to wrestle the rope out of his mouth so that we can go and do our work."
Rasmussen says Kandar Du Falgas also likes to watch his stable companions working out after he has finished his morning canter.
"He has a curious nature and he just stops and has a good look at what the other horses are doing," she said. "I think the grooms get annoyed because we take so long to amble off the track."
Anyone who works closely with horses knows that every animal has its own personality and Kandar Du Falgas appears to know he is a bit of a star.
Arabians have a reputation of being more intelligent and wilful than other breeds. "He doesn't like to be ignored," McFadzean said.
"You don't just walk into his box; that's his space and he always finds a way of getting your attention. He'd never try to intimidate you, but he's not above giving you a little nip to remind you he's the important one."
Indeed, while The National was there, Kandar Du Falgas, who obviously felt he wasn't receiving enough limelight, stole a towel from Madan Singh, the groom who was trying to rub him down.
He stood there proudly dangling his trophy between his teeth.
Kandar Du Falgas was bred in France from the highly-regarded Arabian sire Kesberoy.
He had his first run in 2005 as a three year old and came to the UAE in 2007 after claiming a number of high-profile European contests. "We had heard he was a serious horse," Watson said.
"He had won some group races in France already and we could tell when we looked at him he was going to be a nice horse."
He did not disappoint. Sheikh Hamdan's willing bay claimed the 2007 and 2008 renewals of the Al Maktoum Challenge Round I by six lengths and eight-and-a-half lengths, respectively.
"He is as honest as they come. When he won the first two rounds of the Al Maktoum Challenge there was never another horse near him," Watson said. "He's incredibly consistent and simply never runs a bad race."
It has not all been plain sailing with Kandar Du Falgas. He has suffered from a few injury hiccups and underwent surgery for an ankle problem.
"He's had some fitness problems but the surgery helped him a lot over the last few seasons," said Watson, a three-time UAE champion trainer. "Last year he got a bit stoved up from the track but he seems to have adapted to it now."
Horses are creatures of habit and routine is often key to ensuring they are kept calm and happy.
For Kandar Du Falgas, most days follow the same procedures unless he trains at Meydan or goes to race. "The groom is in there at 5am to 5.15am, His box is mucked out and he is groomed," Watson said. "He's always lying down. We have to get him up in the morning."
McFadzean will check Kandar Du Falgas's legs as well as the legs of all the other horses in his barn and report to Watson if he sees any swelling or feels any heat, an indicator of potential problems.
By 6.10am Kandar Du Falgas is ready for his work on the dirt track just outside the Red Stables gates where he is reunited with Rasmussen, his long-time rider.
"Unless he is doing fast work, he will do the same thing every day. He's a 10 year old now and a little stuck in his ways," Watson said. "He'll warm up and then canter his 10 furlongs. He works with another horse called Larry De Palmas."
Watson watches the morning work of every horse in his yard, paying particular attention to his World Cup day performers, including the sprinter, Barbecue Eddie; and World Cup hope, Silver Pond; as well as Kandar Du Falgas.
After track work, Singh will give him a shower and a "hot walk", where he is led around to cool off before being put back in his box. "He gets some fresh alfalfa that we get shipped in and he will get his feed around 10.30," Watson said.
Kandar Du Falgas eats a well-known horse feed called Baileys.
The racehorse mix, known as Baileys No 10, is a combination of oats and other cereals with oils, including soya and linseed, developed especially for high-performance horses in intensive training. After his breakfast Kandar Du Falgas will be left on his own, with some hay to chew, until 4pm when the grooms return.
He will be groomed again and his box mucked out and he will receive his evening feed at 5.30pm.
Tadhg O'Shea, who is to ride Kandar Du Falgas in the Kahayla Classic this afternoon, said he is looking forward to the big day.
"He's been an excellent horse for Sheikh Hamdan and Doug and he's really a lovely ride to have," he said. "He's uncomplicated to ride and although some may think that he's getting on a bit, personally I feel that Arabians reach their peak between eight and 11 years of age."
O'Shea said Kandar Du Falgas, who has contested two Kahayla Classics, is better this year.
"He's had a great season and I can see him running a very strong race," he said.
Watson agreed. "This is the first season since we've had him that he has been fully sound," he said. "He won his last outing [in the Group 2 Bani Yas] a few weeks ago and we didn't run him in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round III so he goes into this race very fresh.
"I don't know much about the Qatari horses but obviously there is some strong local competition. Nieshan, Seraphin Du Paon and Quite A Show will all be tough, but we are hopeful and I do think that Kandar can run a big race. We have a good turn of foot and he's a very honest horse."
And what about Kandar Du Falgas's future? Watson says it is possible he could stand at stud.
"I haven't spoken to Sheikh Hamdan about it yet, but this horse is very well bred, and has winning Group 1 form under his belt," said the trainer. "He's a beautiful-looking horse, so it's a possibility."
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