Weekend Interview: Rob Massey

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Rob Massey can see the world’s tallest skyscraper from his hotel room in downtown Dubai and in a week’s time he and the other members of Team McLaughlin hope to scale racing’s tallest peak and take down the globe’s richest race.

Massey, Frosted’s regular exercise rider and a longtime employee of trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, has spent nearly two months in Dubai with assistant trainer Neal McLaughlin. They’ve been preparing Frosted for Saturday’s $10 million Dubai World Cup and four other Godolphin runners that will run in rich undercard stakes at Meydan Racecourse.

The others are Confrontation in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen, Marking in the $1 million Godolphin Mile and Lady Shipman in the $1 million Al Quoz Sprint. Like Frosted, Confrontation and Marking won their prep races for their respective races at Meydan earlier this winter.

“It’ll be a big night,” Massey said Saturday. “We’re as ready as we can be. Fingers crossed and just hope for a bit of racing luck.”

A native of Cambridge, England, Massey was the leading steeplechase jockey in the U.S. in the 2000s. He won 77 races, including five Grade 1 steeplechase stakes, and his mounts accumulated more than $2.2 million purses from 2000 to 2007. He’s been riding for McLaughlin since 2007 and owns a home in Greenfield Center, not far from the Maktoum faimily’s Greentree Training Center adjacent to Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs.

He’s anxious to get back to upstate New York but equally excited to be on hand for his first World Cup night since 2009. Massey guided Frosted through his final serious workout before the 1 1/4-mile World Cup, a 5-furlong breeze going right-handed last Wednesday at Marmoom Training Center.

Massey spoke with This Is Horse Racing’s Tom Law via telephone Saturday – at about 11:30 a.m. here in the U.S. and 7:30 in the United Arab Emirates.

This Is Horse Racing: When did you arrive in Dubai and what are your impressions?
Rob Massey: January 22 we flew out (of Florida). Two months. April 3 is when we fly back. Plenty of time to adjust, that’s for sure. It’s different but it’s good. I like it actually.

TIHR: Had you been to Dubai before?
RM: Yes, in 2009. Just for the World Cup. Came out with Albertus Maximus, but literally for just 10 days. This is a whole different experience, you get to settle in and find your way around a bit more. It’s more enjoyable. It’s been a good experience and I’ve totally enjoyed it. One minute you feel you could be anywhere in the states, it’s very westernized and then you step outside the city limits, we’re actually out at one of Sheikh Mohammed’s private facilities, it’s called Marmoom, it’s about a 40-minute drive out into the desert. Then you really realized you’re not near home.

TIHR: You’re not in Greenfield anymore, right?
RM: No, we’re definitely not in Greenfield anymore. It’s cool, it’s different. Happy to be here.

TIHR: So you’re not staying at the training center, but right in Dubai?
RM: Yes, we’re in the middle of town. I can see the Burj Khalifa from the hotel so we’re literally across the road from that and what is the Dubai Mall, the biggest mall they have here. It’s good and everything is within walking distance. There’s some pretty neat stuff to see around there. The hotel is fantastic where they put us up. That part of it is westernized. If you were a shopaholic it would be a great place to be.

TIHR: Is that you, shopaholic?
RM: I’m not a shopaholic. There would be more than enough to keep you entertained with those facilities. There’s a lot of other stuff. Some of the buildings are amazing. The Burj Al Arab and the Burj Khalifa, they’re quite mind-blowing on their own. It’s changed so much since the last time I was here. It’s crazy. You forget it’s a relatively new city, new country and they’re still sort of finding their feet, but it’s interesting to come back and see the developments that have gone on. Very visionary with a lot of their things, which is cool.

TIHR: Nad al Sheba was the main racetrack the last time you were in Dubai, now it’s Meydan. What are your impressions of Meydan?
RM: Meydan is spectacular. I was here the last year they ran the World Cup at Nad al Sheba. All the quarantine barns and the stable area are the same but the entire racecourse is all gone and Meydan sprouted up from nowhere. It’s an unbelievable facility, it’s huge, covers a vast area. They put a lot of thought into it and it’s horse oriented. Some of the westernized racetracks that we go to aren’t designed with the horse in mind. The horse is very much in mind here.

TIHR: The reports back here in the U.S. pretty much say Frosted is doing great. You get on him every morning, what do you think?
RM: He’s doing really well. He had a bit of a break after the Breeders’ Cup, just a bit of an easy time, he never got let down completely but we backed off him with this in mind. He was in good form when we came over but I don’t know if the climate being slightly different … the training center has a really good surface, we’ve been able to turn him around and train in the opposite direction, maybe the lack of humidity, crisp air out in the desert, really picked him up. He actually exceeded expectations with his first run. We thought he would improve from that first one and I think he has. Kiaran made the decision not to run him again because he ran so well fresh and he’s bouncing around the place. He’s had his final breeze and work, he’s in good shape. Really good shape. We’ll see how he stacks up as a 4-year-old now. It’s pretty exciting.

TIHR: He trained right-handed last summer and fall at Greentree, what’s the benefit of doing that?
RM: It switches things up a bit for them. He’s had his couple of months in Florida going left-handed and then when we got here Neal and Kiaran made the decision to turn him around for a while and it worked. Using different muscles, changes his focus a bit. It’s been beneficial so far. I couldn’t be happier with him right now. He looks a million dollars. He’s acting like he’s ready to go back to the races. Sooner the better as far as I’m concerned. He’s back up to his tricks and that’s what you want to see.

TIHR: So has he changed much now that he’s a 4-year-old, still up to some of his tricks when he’s feeling good?
RM: He has his personality for sure. It’s right where he was when he was running well last year so we’re all good. He’s got a lot of personality. He’s matured again a little bit. The bonus, I say the bonus, we don’t have any fillies in the barn so he isn’t quite as vocal as he would be ordinarily. He still thinks he’s king of the hill. He marches out to the track, he surveys his scenery and does what he does. So there’s no real change, but I’m sure he’ll be happy to be home and see the ladies come by him once more. He can tell them all about his trip.

TIHR: Are you guys alone out at Marmoom?
RM: No, Charlie Appleby is out here with the other side of the Godolphin string. He’s got about 20, 25 horses here. We sort of alternate sets. He trains a set, then we go out between (factoring in the) quarantine restrictions and things like that, not interfering. They train very European style and obviously we don’t want to change our routine. There are other horses there. It’s a proper facility. They’ve got three barns, jogging rings, they’ve got a turf gallop, the dirt track is phenomenal, everything you could want. It’s an impressive setup.

TIHR: Prior to the race at Meydan back in January had Frosted been there or trained there?
RM: That was the only time he went there. We could have taken him over but there really was no need. He behaved well the night he ran, took it all in. If he had been bothered we might have gone back but he’s pretty much a professional now. There’s been no need to go back over. He’s done everything right where we are. It’s similar to being at Greentree, the facilities are all there we don’t need to go anywhere. He’ll be ready to see the crowd next Saturday.

TIHR: Speaking of Greentree, you mentioned flying back April 1, I guess it won’t be long after that you’ll meander your way back up here.
RM: The sooner the better for me. I’ll be ready to get back to New York. I’ll do a couple weeks in Florida, then we’ll see what the plans are. I’m sure they’ll want to keep Mohaymen in his routine where he is for as long as possible and then I guess the boss will decide how the rest of it pans out there, we’ll see what the 2-year-olds are doing and then make our way back to Greentree.

TIHR: You’ve been in Dubai two months now. What’s one thing you’re looking forward to when you get back to the states?
RM: There’s a number of things. Maybe food. I like food. The food is great over here but I don’t know, maybe less traffic. Believe it or not. Traffic is crazy here. French fries though. I’ll look forward to some proper French fries. Junk food. Been far too healthy out there, but it’s served its purpose well.

TIHR: Maybe you’ll be at riding weight again?
RM: I doubt that.