The assistant trainer: Brian Powell
An Englishman with a flash of grey hair, Brian works alongside Godolphin’s trainer Saeed Bin Surour. The two are responsible for the horses’ training schedules and the management of Al Quoz Stables. Having worked in Godolphin’s UK stables for many years, Brian is now based full-time in Dubai.
Have you always worked with horses? I’ve been riding horses since I was five years old as I lived in the countryside and we were surrounded by stables. Nobody else in my family has ever been involved in horse racing, so they don’t understand where this passion comes from, but I have never imagined doing anything else. In fact, my father wanted me to take up a ‘proper’ job when I finished school so I joined the Ministry of Agriculture, but nine months later my father realised that it wasn’t for me, and allowed me to work with horses. Initially, I wanted to be a jockey, but that’s not where my skills were best placed, so I focused on getting into the management aspect of it.
When did you start at Godolphin? Back in 1995, I was working with some of the most well-known names in the horse racing industry. One of them, John Gosden, whom I was assistant trainer for, told me of an opening for head lad at Godolphin. At the time, Godolphin was only a couple of years old, but John was sure that Godolphin was going to go places as it had Shaikh Mohammad as its founder and driving force. I took up the offer and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since you’ve worked so closely with thoroughbreds, tell us more about them. The thoroughbred is a horse breed best known for its use in horse racing. All modern thoroughbreds can trace their pedigrees to three stallions originally imported into England in the 17th and 18th centuries – one of which gives Godolphin its name. They are known for their agility and speed, but it is important to understand the horse’s nature.
Horses are just like people: Some are easy to understand, some need praise all the time, some have to be mollycoddled. After years of experience, one is able to distinguish their characteristics and know how to get the best out of them. Just like any other pet, horses like to be appreciated. Their care and welfare is our first priority.
How many horses do you have here in Al Quoz Stables and across the world? Presently, we have about 30 horses that have been brought here from Saeed’s yard, Godolphin Stables in Newmarket, UK, to race in the Dubai World Cup Carnival. In the past, we used to fly in all the horses from the UK to Dubai, so they could spend the winter here and enjoy the moderate climate. Overall, we have 3,000 horses. Maximising the potential of every horse is a team effort.
What does your typical day look like? We start at 5am, every day. First thing in the morning, we check the horses to see how they have managed through the night. If we have any concerns, then we discuss them with Saeed. Then when the horses come out of their boxes at 6.30am, for their earlymorning walk, Saeed and I take a closer look at each one of them again. Each horse has its own exercise schedule, which changes every day and is also determined by their own race calendar – that really determines what our focus is, and what the priorities are each day. Once the Carnival is over, some of the horses will remain here in Dubai and are given a rest from the rigours of training, and the others are flown back to the UK to take part in the racing season there.
How old is a horse when it comes to you? We normally start working with a horse when it is a year old. That’s when we are able to really start to understand its strengths and capabilities. After we break them in and see them train, Shaikh Mohammad and Saeed decide the best way forward for each horse.
At what age do horses start racing? Horses that are going into flat racing will usually start when they are two years old and they tend to peak when they are three or four, after which the best ones are often retired to a stud farm for breeding. Other horses race until they are nine or 10. Just like Formula One or any other major sport,
Training horses requires PATIENCE and INTUITION. Some get distracted easily, some are more curious than others – each is UNIQUE
horse racing too has a well-defined circuit. So horses travel across the world to take part at events. There is an event calendar for every age – it starts at two and goes on from there, depending on the kind of horse and what’s best for them.
Is it difficult to train a horse? This is my passion, so I feel very lucky to be given this opportunity by Shaikh Mohammad and Saeed. Training horses requires patience, experience and intuition. They are colour-blind and judge things by shapes. Some tend to get distracted easily, some are more curious than others – each one is unique. They are also very smart and if a horse is not treated in the right way, it will not forget it, so to get the best out of them it’s all about working with them to maximise their potential.
What are the biggest challenges when you travel with horses? Getting them to eat and drink, especially on a long flight. In the past they would sometimes get anxious during take-offs and landings as they didn’t understand what was going on, but on the whole, they travel really well. More so now because they start travelling when they are babies. They then need a couple of days to recover from it all and get to their usual selves. Every effort is taken to ensure they are OK and the planes they travel on are like flying luxury hotels.
One famous trainer once said, ‘I see a bit of myself in every horse I work with’. Is that true for you as well? No, I wouldn’t say that. I feel horses are like children, every one of them requires a unique way of being nurtured to maximise their potential. That understanding comes with years of experience and knowledge.
How do you maintain a work-life balance? You have to be dedicated to what you do. All those who are in this profession are in it because they love it and it’s their passion. It’s a 24x7 commitment. Our lives revolve around horses and their needs come first. It can be tough on the families, but it’s about managing that balance.
The stables in Al Quoz are one of two Godolphin bases in Dubai; others are in Newmarket in the UK, Ireland, US and Australia