The Al Habtoor family and the game of the kings have enjoyed winning partnership for many years. The Al Habtoor Polo legacy was established in the year 2000 by a man of polo passion, Mohammed Al Habtoor. Since then, polo has been driven to new heights with Habtoor Polo by its side. In the following exclusive interview, given by Mohammed Al Habtoor to the Polo Luxury & Country Life Magazine you will learn more about this successful business man, international polo player and engaged promotor of the polo in the UAE.
Mr. Al Habtoor: How did you get involved in polo?
I love horses. I have been riding since I was young, so it was easy for me to get into the sport. My passion for riding soon developed into polo. It is a team oriented sport. e partnership is not only between you and your team but also with the horses. I started playing polo in 2000, nine years after my brother Rashid. I started with two horses in 2000 and the Habtoor Polo Organisation now has hundreds of horses just for polo in Dubai.
Polo in UAE has been driven to new heights with Habtoor Polo by its side. Would you summarize the manifold activities of Al Habtoor related to polo for our readers?
Three years before starting the Dubai Polo Gold Cup Series in 2010 I was trying to get all the patrons together, to take part of the tournament. Politics in polo around the world is a bit complicated but by creating the Dubai Polo Gold Cup Series I managed to put all the patrons to put politics aside and work together as a team. I am so proud that it is a fair competition. I have to thank all the patrons for sup- porting me in that.
Before we started the Dubai Polo Gold Cup Series the patrons only had a few horses and they brought in professionals to play practices and some exhibitions. Today all the patrons and the teams had put their names on the polo map worldwide. Everyone knows Habtoor Polo in the world, everybody now knows Bin Drai Polo, Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi, Zedan, Mahra.
The Dubai Polo Gold Cup is well established and now running into its 9th year. e ‘Dubai Open’ has earned itself a worldwide reputation thanks to the commitment from the patrons and teams that have participated over the years. e Dubai Polo Gold Cup has achieved so much in such a short space of time. What started out as a 10–12 handicap game in 2010 is now the highest handicap tournament in the Middle East – with a 18-high goal handicap. But that’s not all ... we are currently studying upping the stakes even further – to a 20-goal handicap next year! is will without a doubt increase competition even further.
I am very proud of our achievements so far, and Dubai is now well and truly on the world map of polo and we will continue to raise its pro le even further. Last year, the Al Habtoor Group launched the St. Regis Dubai, Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club.
How important is the polo sport in your life?
Very important ... The second most important to me after my business.
You are the captain of the Al Habtoor Polo Team. You have participated in numerous polo tournaments both locally and globally. What was the biggest success in your polo career?
I have played in numerous tournaments in the UK such as the Polo in the Park where my team won the cup in 2014 and 2015. We played the Queens Cup in England and the Royal Windsor, which the Queen also a ended. Habtoor Polo also recently reached the semifinal of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup for the British Open Polo Championship at Cowdray Park Polo Club, which is one of Europe’s most prestigious polo tournaments. As a team we have also played in Soto Grande, Spain and St Tropez, France. We played in Palm Beach and in Melbourne, Australia. Out of the 20 tournaments we entered we won roughly 10, and in a few more we ranked second or third. The McLaren Silver and Julius Baer Gold Cup are among some of the biggest tournaments in the whole region. We won the Gold Cup and the Subsidiary Gold Cup in the first year. e next year we won the Silver Cup and the Subsidiary Silver Cup, and in 2012 we came away with the Dubai Polo Gold Cup.
Who are the other players of the Al Habtoor Polo Team? Does the team play in the same line-up every time?
The lineup changes depending on the tournament and the handicap of the competition. Two of my sons, Habtoor and Ahmed both play polo at a high level and sometimes are part of the team. Other times we compete against each other. Habtoor is patron of the Wolves Polo Team. Khalaf, my youngest son, who is seven, has started to learn to ride and play polo at the Al Habtoor Polo Academy.
Managing the Habtoor Polo Team is a full- time job. Who is the person who assist you in that matter?
If you want to win you cannot delegate the job of managing the team. Being a patron means being committed to the team and the horses, you cannot leave it to others and just turn up on the day. Good results come from hard work and commitment. I speak to my players every single day, to Guillermo, who is my Polo Man- ager. I go to the stables and ask about every horse and talk to the vet. It is important to me to know all the fine details. Guillermo is doing a great job and I have confidence in his work.
Many members of the Al Habtoor family are polo players. Would you introduce the most successful players of your family to our readers, please?
My brother Rashid also has his own team, Mahra. His son Tariq and Khalaf play polo as well. We are all successful because we are passionate about the sport and are fortunate to have played in some of the world’s biggest tournaments.
How many matches are you playing per year?
I play in as many tournaments as I can. In Dubai we have extended the Polo season to mid- April, and then I play in Europe over the summer months.
What are your next tournaments?
We have a very busy polo season ahead. We opened the polo season at e Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club with a ‘Season Opening’ celebration at e St. Regis Dubai, Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club in early October, and the last tournament will be in April. It is the longest polo season anywhere in the world.
The McLaren Cup (18-goal handicap) will run from January 26 to February 9. After that we have the Polo Masters Cup (14-goal handicap) from February 714. That’s followed by the Julius Baer Gold Cup (18-goal handicap) from February 16 to March 9. Then it is the Dubai Challenge Cup (18-goal handicap) from March 12–24. We close the season in Dubai with the Dubai Cup (8–10-goal handicap) from April 6–13.
You have turned the Dubai Polo Gold Cup Series into one of the highlights of the Dubai sports calendar, making it one of the region’s most prestigious polo events. What visions for the future do you have for particular this tournament and Habtoor Polo?
We are always setting our sights on something bigger and better. We are really proud to have caught the world’s attention with our Polo tournaments and now a state-of-the-art facility that can host some of the world’s best polo events. We will continue to grow on our success. We are a polo family and are committed to the sport, and are proud that we have helped create something good for Dubai and the UAE.
How would you describe yourself?
Hardworking, committed, sporty and fun. I wear several hats. at of a businessman as Vice Chairman & CEO of a busy, diversified group – e Al Habtoor Group. Plus, I am a family man and a sportsman.
What do your friends say about you?
I don’t know! They are my friends for a reason though, so I think they would say nice things. I don’t know!
What’s your greatest achievement in your life?
In business, it is my achievements in the hospitality sector. I have been instrumental in the development of Al Habtoor City, and La Perle, the regions first-ever permanent show of its kind. There is nothing like La Perle from Las Vegas to Macau. It is not only good for us as a group, but it has also helped put Dubai on the world map as an entertainment hub.
The Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club is another business achievement I am personally proud of. It is a six million square foot development devoted entirely to the equestrian world. e centerpiece of the development is the St. Regis’ first-ever equestrian-inspired resort. e Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club is the permanent home ground for the Dubai Gold Cup Series, which is now a 18-goal handicap competition, the highest handicapped event in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Other well-known tournaments around the world are now coming to Dubai because we have the facilities to accommodate them.
As a sportsman, my greatest achievement is playing at renowned polo events around the world, like at the Al Habtoor Royal Windsor Cup, or more recently advancing to the semifinals of the Cowdray Gold Cup.
What do you enjoy the most about working at your company?
The Al Habtoor Group is a diversified group, so no two days are the same. Every day there is a new challenge and we rise to it. We are al- ways busy. The Group has expanded significantly in recent years both in Dubai and in other parts of the world. We now have hotels in the US, UK, Europe and Lebanon.
What virtue do you admire most in other people?
Honesty, hard work and commitment. All these make a person successful.
What do you think are the most important attributes of successful people?
I will use my father as an example. Discipline and determination is what has led him to success. He started with nothing, succumbed to many failures, and is now sitting at the helm of one of the best-known conglomerates in the region.
What inspires you? Who do you look up to? In business and life?
My father, Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor. He has created a diversified company from scratch, and taught me the importance of discipline and hard work. is This the secret of his success.
For example, fast cars, special food or something completely different?
I can’t resist polo. It is in my blood. It is something I am passionate about, and through that passion we have created something truly incredible for Dubai – e Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club, and the tournaments we play here like the Dubai Gold Cup Series.
What is your favorite pastime when you are not on the polofield or in your office?
I like to travel and explore new places. I like to ski and often take my sons on skiing trips around the world.
Interview: By Christoph Hügli, CEO Polo Luxury & Country Life Magazine