Bruce Raymond has gone from jockey to Rabbah Bloodstock's racing manager and talks to Geoffrey Riddle about his Dubai connections.
Taking care of the UAE business
Bruce Raymond has never heard of Malcolm Gladwell, the American writer who, in his 2005 book Blink, put forward the theory of "thin-slicing". The irony is thick because during Raymond's 48-year career in racing as a top jockey and, now, racing manager, he has virtually lived by the thin-slicing principle: the theory that the human mind can size up a situation by skimming the unconscious for information that is necessary to make an instantaneous and correct decision.
It is 6.30am, and we are standing on Warren Hill, one of the prime gallops in Newmarket, the headquarters of British thoroughbred racing. Strings of racehorses queue up in the morning sunlight to be put through their paces up the punishing hill that has built up thoroughbred muscle for hundreds of years. As each horse flashes by, onlookers cannot help but consider that, without a famous jockey on board, racing silks and a race card number to guide us, they all look the same: brown.
"It's like being a teacher," Raymond said. "You spend so much time with them that you get to know them. You work on feeling with racehorses. It's like looking at your class and knowing that one of them has a snotty nose, or being a husband who thinks his wife's hair looks a bit dry. You can just tell these things." Raymond's small stature and his ability to size up a situation at speed were the perfect blend for becoming a jockey. Although in 1962, aged 19, he became a champion apprentice with 13 winners, he never quite reached the top bracket, reserved for the likes of Lester Piggott, Pat Eddery and Walter Swinburn. It meant that he was forever locked in a struggle for the best mounts, and often had to study the lesser cards to unearth the best opportunities.
"For a jockey, racing is a constant fight," Raymond said. "You are never able to sit on your laurels because there is always someone chasing your rides. A trainer is always going to give his best horses to the best jockeys." Raymond's riding career continued into his 50s, and in 1993 he rode his best Derby at Epsom to finish second aboard Blue Judge, a rank outsider owned by Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the former Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. A year later, however, his riding career was over. After a horrific fall in Germany, where he broke his neck, Raymond retired to become the assistant to another former jockey, Joe Mercer, who was the racing manager at Sheikh Maktoum's Gainsborough stud. Their experience in the saddle proved crucial to understanding how good a horse could be and the best races in the calendar for them - core skills for a racing manager.
Following the death of Sheikh Maktoum in 2006, it was decided by his brother Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and his bloodstock advisor, John Ferguson, that it would be easier to manage the racing and breeding interests of his associates under one management system. Rabbah Bloodstock was born, and now Raymond looks after the racing interests of up to 29 owners, made up of UAE businessmen and friends of Sheikh Mohammed.
"It's completely different to being a jockey, but I do know a little bit about horses and I know a little about diplomacy," he said. "You should know about how to talk to owners by my age and when to say yes and when to say no." Raymond oversees a huge operation comprising around 400 horses in training worldwide. From the moment Rabbah thoroughbreds are foaled or bought, until they are retired to stud or sold, Raymond's job is to manage the career of each horse. He works with trainers and the organisation's bloodstock advisor, Jonathan Mills, on a daily basis, monitoring the progress of each horse and making notes that help create a picture of the perfect racing conditions for each animal.
"I think after three runs you should know how a horse should be ridden and therefore you should be able to give a jockey advice; whether a horse needs to be leading, or needs to be held up. "For me, though, the hardest thing in racing is finding out the right distance for a horse. There are plenty of horses that should stay a trip, but they are slow. So the natural progression is that you put them over further, but it doesn't mean that they will stay further, it just means they are slow."
In Britain, the Rabbah string numbers around 250, and is spread around 19 trainers including Sir Michael Stoute, Mick Channon, Brian Meehan and Michael Jarvis. Raymond's remit also is to discover new training talent, and he has sent horses to rising stars David Simcock and David Lanigan. Lanigan took out a training licence at the end of 2007, having worked as an assistant to Henry Cecil for five years.
"I was very fortunate to be introduced to Saif Ali and Saeed al Tayer," Lanigan said in his cramped office at Revida Place between morning gallops. "It's been very good for us here in the sense that there are a limited amount of owners in England, and the economy is going through a difficult time. Rabbah has been a real kick-start for me." Al Tayer is the chairman of Meydan racecourse, and along with Ali, an owner who has also trained camels, the pair sent Lanigan horses in 2008. Wannabe King won on his second start, and that led to a fruitful association which resulted in Lanigan sending out Meeznah to finish second in the Oaks at Epsom and fourth in the Irish Oaks last weekend, both times behind Snow Fairy.
"Meeznah is better than she ran in Ireland," Lanigan said. "I'm convinced she'll win a group race this year. There's lots of options because she stays so well. Perhaps the Park Hill at Doncaster, or even the Lillie Langtry at Goodwood next week ?" In the first exhibition of how the manager-trainer relationship works, Raymond said: "I'd imagine the Yorkshire Oaks or the St Leger to take on Snow Fairy again would be her best target. That filly might get a puncture or something!"
Raymond later explained the delicate balance he maintains between himself, the trainers and the owners. "I talk about the plans with the trainers, then I discuss it with the owners. My owners are usually open to suggestions, but the ultimate decision is with them - after all, it's their horse. "Of course there are owners that will say: 'I want my horse to run on a Saturday on an uphill track because my wife and aunt are coming over,' but mine are thankfully not like that."
Although Ali has invested in juvenile stock recently, Saeed Manana, Saeed Suhail, Mohammed Obaida and Jaber Abdullah are the owners better known for having Raymond train their horses. Unlike Godolphin, or Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle stable, however, Raymond tries very hard to keep the Rabbah horses apart at the races. "One trainer might come and say to me 'I want my horse to run in this race,' but I'm in the position to tell him that Rabbah has a better one with another trainer, so they won't win."
In his four years at the helm, Raymond has delivered a greater return of winners every season. Last year Rabbah recorded 131 victories, and so it is with a raised eyebrow that the Newmarket rumour mill has suggested that Rabbah may be wound down due to the economic climate in Dubai. For the record, Raymond believes that the operation is "far too big to be closed". But the rumour underlines that Britain's racing industry relies far too heavily on the power of UAE money. In 2004, Sheikh Mohammed bought Dalham Hall, the Grade II listed property that goes with the stud of the same name that he purchased in 1981. The 3,300 acres of farmland, as well as the 39 cottages, cost him £45 million (Dh252.9m). Along with the stud, estimates price the Dalham Hall holding to be worth more than £100m.
"Without Sheikh Mohammed, Newmarket would collapse," Raymond said. "It would recover without the Dubai owners, but it would take two generations to do it and it wouldn't be the same. All the foreign labour would have to go home because there would be no employment for them. "Sure, Russians or other Middle Eastern families could afford such prices, but the Russians don't do it with as much style as the UAE families, and after them there is no one else to invest at such levels, is there?
"I think people take Sheikh Mohammed for granted now. There's talk of a statue of King Charles II going up in the town centre, but I think that they should consider a statue of Sheikh Mohammed, he's done so much." Whatever the future holds for Raymond, he has settled into Newmarket for good. When he arrived as a teenager, there were 1,500 horses in training. There are double that number now. "I'm not a celebrity, but I can go into a shop and people know who I am. It has its uses, because if I forget my money they know me well enough that I can arrange to pay them the next time I go in there." Even the shopkeepers in this sleepy, racing-obsessed Suffolk town work to Gladwell's theory of "thin-slicing". They can judge instantly a modest and likeable man when they see one. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Some of the more prominent Rabbah owners and their most famous horses: Saeed Manana The biggest owner under the Rabbah umbrella, Manana famously had a winner at the Cheltenham Festival over jumps in 1992 (Thetford Forest). Best horse was Luso, who won the Hong Kong international in 1996 and 1997, as well as the globe-trotting Warrsan, who doubled up in the Coronation Cup in 2004. Zaidan, who is trained by Clive Brittain and won at Royal Ascot in June, is his flag-bearer this season. Saeed Suhail The most successful owner in terms of prestigious races won to ratio of runners, Suhail won the Derby at Epsom with Kris Kin in 2003 and the 2,000 Guineas with King's Best in 2000. Has horses with Jeremy Noseda and Sir Michael Stoute. Mohamed Obaida Owned Sayyedati, who won the 1,000 Guineas, the Prix Jacques le Marois and who successfully took on the colts when winning the Sussex Stakes in 1995. Watch out this season for his Electra Star, a Shamardal filly trained by Willie Haggas. Jaber Abdullah Has had great success with fillies, having owned Queen's Logic, who won the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes in 2001, as well as Majestic Roi, Lady Of The Desert and Music Show, who won the Falmouth Stakes earlier this month. Owns Youmzain, who contests the Group 1 King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot this afternoon. Saif Ali and Saeed al Tayer Both owners have runners in their own colours, but the pair have been most successful with Meeznah, who placed in the Oaks at Epsom and finished fourth in the Irish Oaks at the Curragh. Meeznah could also contest the Yorkshire Oaks next month.