Meet Stephanie Cooley: International Racing Liaison
It is only ten weeks until the 26th running of the Dubai World Cup on the 26th of March. An integral part of the team for keeping everything on track at Meydan Racecourse is Dubai Racing Club’s international racing liaison, Stephanie Cooley.
Cooley was born and raised just outside of Chicago with no connections or family background in racing or horses in general. Instead, her love of the sport bloomed at Arlington Park Racecourse, where she would go with her father growing up; she said: “I fell in love with racing starting then, getting my dad to place 2 dollars on horses for me”. From a young age, she was determined to work in the industry. “I didn’t know anyone in the sport, but I knew going to the University of Kentucky was going to get my foot in the door and start meeting people and making contacts.” Stephanie also mentioned Racing Hall of Fame’s Cigar was the first big-name horse she came to know and love, getting her interested in racing.
Stephanie has been working in the industry since 2010. After graduating from the University of Kentucky, she went on to work at the Arlington Park racing office in the summer and New Orleans Fairgrounds in the winter doing everything from being a racing official to a placing judge and working under the racing secretaries there at each track.
“I have always been a huge fan of international racing, and a few people had mentioned Dubai as my next step overseas”, her boss at the time, Chris Polzin at Arlington, still happened to be in contact with the Executive Director of Racing in Dubai, Frank Gabriel. “One thing led to another, and I moved out to Dubai 5 years ago to work in the Emirates Racing Authority registry office before coming into this position now”.
Being the international racing liaison comes with a lot of responsibilities. The point of contact for all Dubai World Cup international trainers, owners and stable staff. Creating the Meydan horseman’s guide, being a member of the selection committee with handling all horse nominations and invitations for the International Racing Carnival (which runs every Friday from January until the end of March) and World Cup Day. Organizing and dealing with horse fight shipping agents, even down to the finer details of the track work saddle cloths and racing merchandise/memorabilia- all of which come under the liaison’s umbrella of management. Cooley expresses that “the job is a lot of stress during certain periods of the year. But when you get to meet the people you have been in contact with, seeing them finally arrive in Dubai with their horses and expressing how grateful they are, it is very rewarding. I also love meeting different people from all corners of the world, reconnecting with my friends from the US and seeing top-class horses running here. You can’t ask for much more than that”.
When asked what horses she is most looking forward to seeing racing at Meydan this season, Stephanie said: “I am going to be a bit biased here and go with Hot Rod Charlie”.
The 4-year-old colt is one of the highest-rated dirt horses in the world at the moment and just one in a recent shipment of Doug O’Neill-trained horses from California. “Having him here now and prepping for the World Cup is just amazing,” said Stephanie. He was last seen on Boxing Day coming second to Express Train at Santa Anita by a nose and is next aiming at the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 on the 4th of February. Another horse she mentioned is the evergreen Lord Glitters trained by David O’Meara, a UAE racing crowd favourite; he recently put up a gusty performance finishing 4th in his first carnival appearance of the season last week in the Group 2 Al Rashidiya.
Reflecting on her last five seasons in the UAE, Stephanie says that her favourite World Cup winner is the Bob Baffert superstar, Arrogate, in 2017. “Still to this day, I think it is the most impressive win I’ve ever seen, coming from dead last in a hampered start to winning in inclement weather conditions; it was unbelievable”.