In the rich and varied history of the thoroughbred racing, everyone who has risen to any kind of prominence has done so with bringing in their own flavour and set of experience and expertise that they bring on. At any given farm or a stable, the key recipe for success is always the set of people that work behind the scenes to bring the pieces together. “The secret sauce”, if you will lie in these details. Phoenix Farms although relatively very young in the scene, has been in the news for all the right reasons.
Under the formidable guidance and direction of Amir Abdulaziz, Phoenix has taken its first flight and has reached the top of the skies with seemingly effortless ease. Of course, we do not believe that any of this has come easy and hence we tried to pry a little bit into the well-oiled mechanism that the Phoenix Farm is, and who better than Mr Abdulaziz himself to tell us.
Q: How is Gronkowski doing in his prep for the Dubai World Cup rematch?
What Carnival races will he be expected to compete in?
A: This campaign has been all about getting him ready for his two main targets. Since his excellent run in last season's Dubai World Cup, we've been targeting the 2020 renewal and the Saudi Cup. He's had two runs this season at Meydan and we've been happy with them both. He's a big horse, so it takes some time, and races, to get him fully fit. We didn't want him to peak too early and Salem (bin Ghadayer) has done a fantastic job of bringing him along slowly. He should be spot-on now and we hope for a big run in both races. He has proved in the past he is a horse who thrives on the big occasions.
I don't expect he'll run at the Carnival again before the World Cup, but we'll see how he comes out of the Saudi Cup.
Q: Please tell us more about his plans for the Saudi Cup.
A: We are very excited about being able to compete in the first-ever Saudi Cup. We have been big supporters of the race since it was first floated as an idea. This is what global racing is all about, the best horses racing against each other on the World stage. I was lucky enough to spend some time in Saudi last year and their passion for racing is only matched by their ambitions for the sport. It's a really exciting time.
It's shaping up to be a very classy race but Gronk fully deserves to take his chance. As we've mentioned, we've been happy with his preparation and we are hopeful that given he only has a short flight from Dubai will also be an advantage over some of those coming from further afield. We think he can run a big race.
Q: Have you made any plans for him to race after the Dubai World Cup race day?
A: Much of that will depend on how he performs and comes out of the race. Despite being a five-year-old he hasn't had much racing and while he's showing us he can compete at the top level there's no reason why he won't continue to run in these global events.
Q: Please tell us a bit more about Gronkowski as a horse? How did he come to you and what has his journey been like? What makes him an exciting horse?
A: We bought Gronkowski at the Tattersall Craven Sale in Newmarket for 300,000 Guineas. It's fair to say he's paid that back and then some! Naming him as we did draw a lot of attention and he's one of the horses we can credit with announcing our arrival on the World stage so he'll always be a special horse for us. He's taken us on quite a journey from his wins in England, to his second to Justify in the Belmont and of course the thrill of his near-miss at last year's Dubai World Cup.
He's a bit of a character away from the racecourse too. He loves to be petted but can just as quickly turn round and give you a nip! He also loves his food, which might be one of the reason's he needs a few runs to get fit.
He's exciting because of his talent. He's shown how good he can be and when's he's on the song he can be among the best in the World on dirt. He also seems to save his best for the big occasion and you can see it in his body language that he loves the limelight.
Q: Who are your other stable stars this season, how are they doing and what races are their being aimed at?
A: A lot of people seem to have forgotten about Axelrod. He was good enough to make the field for the World Cup last year. He was probably short of a run on that night and with luck, we'll see the best of him this time. We hope he'll be heading back to the World Cup again.
Internationally we have plenty to look forward to. Loving Gaby will target all the major Group One sprints while Prague looks to have an exciting future now he's unbeaten in a couple of runs. We also have a small stake in Group One winner Exceedance who after running for more top-class honours’ looks to be a ready-made stallion.
In the US, Lady Apple looks to have improved again and was very good when beating a couple of Grade One winners in the Houston Ladies Classic. She'll go to Oaklawn next where there are a few options. We also have a horse called Little Menace that we hope can run in some top races soon.
As for Europe, now that Advertise has retired to stud it's all about horses for the future. We have some very talented unraced two and three-year-olds ready to run this coming turf season while horses like Melody King and Frankenstella should start showing their potential.
Q: Which was the first Dubai World Cup race you've attended and which horse did you get to see win the DWC?
A: I was lucky enough to be at the first Dubai World Cup. It was such an exciting concept and to see it all come to fruition was amazing. To think 25 years later and it's gone from strength to strength.
It provided the perfect result too with Cigar coming out on top. Here was this superstar coming over from America and performing to his best in front of the World. I think that has set the tone for the race ever since, while it also captured the collective attention of the American racing industry which has been vital to the growth of the race.
Q: What excites you about Dubai and Meydan?
A: Under the guidance of HRH Sheikh Mohammed Dubai has become the international hub for business. It's full of new ideas and innovations with influences from all around the World. The racing at Meydan reflects that. You get horses from all over coming to compete for some fantastic prize money. The atmosphere on World Cup night is a truly unique experience and they really look after their owners. Also, there is something very special about racing under the floodlights there. The whole experience is World-class.
Q: And finally, which horses would you like to see on the field going up against Gronkowski in the Dubai World Cup meeting?
A: We are a little disappointed we won't be getting a rematch against Thunder Snow. Having been beaten so narrowly by him, we would have liked the chance to try and get the better of him.
I think with any race like this you want to take on the best. So with luck, the top US horse like Maximum Security and Midnight Bisou will come after running in the Saudi Cup and likewise Benbatl. He was mightly impressive the other night so would be hard to beat but with a fully fit Gronkowski we might be able to give him a race. Of course, we'd like to see Axelrod have another crack as well.
Q: What are your aspirations for your string in the decade?
A: The next decade will be about improving on what we have both on and off the track. We want to compete more regularly in the top races so we will be looking at ways to do that. We'll also continue to expand our breeding operations. This past six months we have had our first homebred winner and recently celebrated breeding a Group Two winner. This is a vital part of our business and we are aiming to add plenty of quality to our stallion and broodmare ranks.