x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Racing mourns a modest champion

Saeed bin Shudait Al Wahebi, trainer to Sheikh Khalifa, collected more than 65 trophies in a distinguished career over almost four decades.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, offers his condolences.
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, offers his condolences.

DUBAI // The camel racing world has paid tribute to one of its most influential figures.

Saeed bin Shudait Al Wahebi, the trainer of President Sheikh Khalifa's racing camels who was killed in a traffic accident in Al Ain on Sunday, was regarded by many as the most important racing identity in the Gulf.

Known as the "Castle of Swords and Cups" for his impressive haul of more than 65 trophies, Mr Al Wahebi, an Omani, had been active in the industry since his childhood.

He first rose to prominence as a jockey in the mid-1990s, showing the flair and skill that would lead him to be appointed the President's trainer shortly after the turn of the century.

Mr Al Wahebi, 48, had been returning from Al Wathba, where the Final Annual Camel Race Festival is in progress, about 6.30am on the Al Ain Truck Road when one of his tyres blew out.

The car overturned three times and Mr Al Wahebi and his brother-in-law Azzan Al Zihtani, 18, were thrown from the vehicle. Both died in the accident.

"He prayed the morning prayer in Al Wathba and drove off to get to the President's meydan [racetrack] in Al Ain," said Hamad Al Ghafli, a close friend and member of the UAE Camel Racing Federation.

"He was a person who loved his work. To train the camels is not easy work and he had a lot of responsibilities. He had more than 200 camels to take care of."

The federation honoured Mr Al Wahebi for his contribution to camel racing the day before the accident.

Mr Al Ghafli said his friend had started his career as a jockey when he was 10 years old, but it was in 2003 that he cemented his reputation as a great racer.

"The Nad Al Sheba race was a turning point for him and since then everyone realised what a great racer he was," he said.

Mr Al Wahebi won the race with a camel called Al Fatina (Charming).

"It was his beloved camel," said Mr Al Ghafli. "He used to say that he cannot stop being grateful to Al Fatina."

That animal eventually became sick and died, but until his death Mr Al Wahebi always kept at least one of his camels named in its honour.

"He was a happy person and very friendly to everyone," Mr Al Ghafli said.

"He was the most modest person I have ever met. He was the best in what he does. He was an indispensable person."

Friends and industry insiders added their tributes to Mr Al Ghafli's.

"The world of camel racing has lost its most important figure," said Dr Jiwad Abdul Rahman Al Masri, an adviser to the President. "Everyone used to have their eyes fixed on the camels trained by Saeed."

Dr Al Masri described Mr Al Wahebi as a kind and modest person who had not been changed by his success.

"He was a very simple person and loved to do good for people," he said. "He was very down to earth despite him being the best in the Gulf."

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, and Sheikh Sultan bin Hamdan, the President's Adviser, attended Mr Al Wahebi's funeral in Oman on Sunday. A second funeral was arranged by Sheikh Sultan in Al Wathba yesterday.

wissa@thenational.ae