Dependable Hukum Speaks Volumes For Burrows

Hukum after his Super Saturday win with Richard Hills, Jim Crowley and Owen Burrows | Dubai Racing Club


DUBAI, UAE–In the week building up to Dubai's major race day, a growing throng of owners and trainers arrive at Meydan to see their horses in action, and perhaps shoot the breeze with the press pack gathered trackside. At a quiet remove behind the back stretch is the training track favoured by the European horses, with a grass circuit and a Tapeta surface, each to be enjoyed without the hullabaloo of the main racecourse, and with few onlookers present.

It is here on Thursday morning that Sheikha Hissa Hamdan Al Maktoum arrives with Shadwell's racing manager Angus Gold and advisor Richard Hills to watch her homebred Hukum (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) have his penultimate exercise under Jim Crowley before his start in the G1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic on Saturday. It is a poignant moment, as a year ago to the day the racing world was saddened by the death of Sheikha Hissa's father, Sheikh Hamdan, a man revered and admired across the industry as one of loyalty and modesty. The latter is borne out by the fact that his many runners over his 40-year involvement with horseracing ran in the name of Hamdan Al Maktoum – his regal title dropped for his involvement in the sport he loved the most. And a glance back over the many tributes paid to Sheikh Hamdan this time last year is a reminder of how frequently the word loyal occurred when those closely associated with him, particularly his trainers, recalled their relationship.

It is not difficult to imagine that Sheikh Hamdan appreciated and rewarded loyalty in others. Over the years when visiting Sir Michael Stoute's Freemason Lodge in Newmarket he would have had many opportunities to witness Stoute's longtime assistant trainer Owen Burrows at work, and when the time came for Burrows to start training under his own name, it was Sheikh Hamdan who installed him as a private trainer, in 2016, at Kingwood House Stables in Lambourn. 

It is no secret that, with the horses now running under the banner of Shadwell Stable, the operation is significantly smaller than in Sheikh Hamdan's time, and it is a reduction that will be felt by a number of stables. It has precipitated a slight change of scenery for Burrows, his wife Lynn and their two children to Farncombe Down Stables, still in Lambourn, and a smart 40-box yard previously used by Shadwell as a spelling and rehabilitation facility. Though Burrows is now a public trainer, support from the Maktoum family remains, through Sheikh Ahmed, and also his niece Sheikha Hissa, the owner of the regally-bred stable star Hukum.

“I have a huge amount to be thankful to Sheikh Hamdan for, he was such a good man, you only had to hear the way people talked about him,” says Burrows a couple of hours after overseeing Hukum's morning exercise alongside his ownership team.

“Like him, Sheikha Hissa is really keen on racing,” he adds. “Before Super Saturday she came and watched Hukum a few times and the other morning she came out to the yard and was feeding him Polos. She's very passionate about it, which is brilliant. 

“We all understood the operation had to trim right back but it is wonderful to hear that she wants to come to England and go racing. Richard Hills said after the first conversation he had with her that it was just like speaking to a female version of her father and, to me, that is almost the biggest compliment you could give her.”

Sheikha Hissa doubtless has much to look forward to this season back in Europe. The five-time Group winner Hukum and his even starrier full-brother Baaeed (GB)–the pair descending from Height Of Fashion (Fr), the bedrock of Sheikh Hamdan's breeding operation–will be at the forefront of her equine team. Hukum has stolen a march on the unbeaten Baaeed so far in 2022 as he has run once and won once, securing his place in the Sheema Classic line-up with his victory in the G2 Dubai City of Gold. He will be one of six runners for the Shadwell Stable on Dubai World Cup night.

Hukum is an important flag-bearer for Burrows. He was his first Royal Ascot winner when landing the King George V S. on only the third start of his life, helping to make Sheikh Hamdan the leading owner at the Royal meeting of 2020. His victory earlier this month at Meydan means that Burrows now boasts a perfect record in Dubai from his sole runner there. 

“He's been so consistent, he's always run well,” says the trainer, “The Sheema Classic is a very strong race but I think he deserves his chance back in Group 1 company. We've only tried him in it once – in the St Leger as a 3-year-old – and he didn't quite get home. He won over a bit further last year but I never really felt he was going to be a Cup horse; he's got a bit more speed than people give him credit for.”

Reflecting on his Super Saturday victory, Burrows adds, “That was obviously massive for me, and also for the whole operation. That was the first horse we brought out here since Sheikh Hamdan passed and for him to go and do that was perfect. It was a prep run, and obviously on ratings he was the best horse, but he was drawn 14 of 14 and that made it a but more difficult. I'm glad we decided to come out for that race. I felt it would have been asking a lot to bring him here just a week before the Sheema Classic.”

Now five, Hukum is exactly the type of horse with which Sir Michael Stoute would have excelled. Having made just two starts at two, he went straight to Royal Ascot for his first run at three. The 12 years spent with Stoute provided a valuable lesson for Burrows, and hopefully through his progressive campaigner he will reap the rewards of that as this season gets properly underway.

“Covid interrupted Hukum's 3-year-old season a little bit,” Burrows says. “He was rated 91 so he was thrown in for the George V but he got quite badly struck into at Royal Ascot so had to have a bit of time off.

“We're under no illusion, we know he has to find seven pounds, but having had a prep run here and some sunshine for three weeks it has brought him forward. I was talking to Richard and Angus yesterday, and we agreed that if we are competitive on Saturday I think it lets us know where we sit back home in England, because these are the best in the world. It will help us to know whether we are looking later in the year – at the King George, or possibly the Arc at the end of the season. It's exciting.”

On the other side of the world on Saturday, another former Burrows star, the 2000 Guineas runner-up Massaat (Ire), will be represented by his first two runners in the Brocklesby S., the opening 2-year-old race of the British turf season. In the trainer's yard currently, there are 17 juveniles, constituting roughly half the team. There is no son or daughter of Massaat there yet, but the breeze-up sales are just around the corner.

“This has to be a building year,” he says. “We will be trying to get the numbers back up. There's room to put some more boxes in and I'd love to get up to around 60 horses.”

Burrows admits that he is not the most tech-savvy pop trainers, and he is currently learning to embrace the joys, and otherwise, of social media.

“Being Sir Michael's assistant for all those years, obviously we didn't do that kind of thing,” he says with a smile.

But even without that association, it is hard to imagine the modest Burrows enjoying the often brash, look-at-me era of Twitter and Instagram. As one who grew up in a National Hunt stable when his father was Head Lad to David 'The Duke' Nicholson, and who then rode as a conditional for such luminaries of the jumping world as Martin Pipe and Josh Gifford, Burrows seems more at home in the school of traditional horsemanship, where the horses do the talking for you.

Hukum has already done just this, and it would be no surprise to see him trumpeting his likeable trainer's abilities a little louder through this year.

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