11/11/2010 1:31PM

Q&A: Alastair Donald

Barbara D. Livingston

Managing director of the International Racing Bureau, whose responsibilities include getting top European horses to the United States for races such as last week’s Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs, where this interview took place.

Birthdate: April 16, 1950, in Paisley, Scotland

Family: wife, Annie

Got into racing because . . . “I was in the right place at the right time. Riding horses was a hobby. I was riding ponies at age 5 or 6. I went from ponies to horses to an interest in racing. I heard about the International Racing Bureau in 1983. I had been working in general management for an animal health company in the UK.”

How did you come to work for the IRB? “I responded to an advertisement in The Sporting Life. It was a job advertising a racecourse management job at Aintree, where they run the Grand National Steeplechase. It turned out one of the executives involved in that racecourse, John Hughes, who is no longer alive, was a director of the IRB. Through that contact I was led to the IRB. I worked for them for a year as a consultant, then went to work on a full-time basis in 1984.”

Where is the IRB based? Newmarket, England. I live 20 miles outside of Newmarket.”

In what countries do you have representatives? “France, Italy, Germany, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia.”

What services does the IRB provide? “We provide journalistic services, such as supplying information to publications over here in the USA about what’s going on in Europe. We also provide information to the Racing Post. We assist UK trainers running overseas. That includes making of entries, assistance on the ground, arranging drivers, hotel bookings, restaurant bookings. If they get in trouble with a stewards’ inquiry, we can help translate with our local representatives. We have a degree of expertise and knowledge about where they are going to race, so we can advise them, not as to where to run, but to give them a total picture so they can make the best and most informed decision. We also do promotional services for most of the major international racing events around the world, like Dubai, Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore. We work with tracks such as Arlington, and other tracks on the East Coast and West Coast, and, of course, the Breeders’ Cup.”

Describe the process of getting a horse transported from, say, Newmarket, to Louisville, Ky.? “We don’t do any of the shipping. We liaise with the shipper. As for the horsemen, we advise them on what they need to do, the steps they have to go through, most notably medication issues. For instance, in Hong Kong, they want a list of anything a horse has received, and it has to be out of their system. It’s zero tolerance. It is important trainers understand that.”

Are there high and low seasons for work for you, or, because of international racing in Japan and Hong Kong and Dubai, has this become a year-round endeavor? “March is Dubai, Hong Kong in April, Singapore in May, Royal Ascot in June. Round about December, right after the Hong Kong International races, I get a bit of down time.”

Best horse seen? “As a 2-year-old, Arazi. My favorite racehorse in most recent years was Sea the Stars.”

Best trainer seen? “Sir Michael Stoute.”

Best jockey seen? “Olivier Peslier.”

What do you think are the best aspects of racing in the United States, and in what areas are we lacking? “I’m lucky, because when I go racing here, I’m going to the best races. I love the Breeders’ Cup because of the overall quality. It’s so exceptional. It is the same thing at the Arlington Million. There are three Grade 1 races that day. I love that concentration of quality. I think the biggest area in question is the surface that you race on.”

Following up on that, synthetic surfaces have been quite controversial here. It seems as though Europeans have been more accepting of them. Why the disparity? “I think it’s disappointing to see your move away from synthetics. Ultimately, they are healthier for the horse’s safety. People at home have total acceptance of them, without a second thought. Our experience has basically been a good one.”

A number of European horses ran in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita in 2008 and 2009, but not one was in this year’s race. Will racing on dirt in the Breeders’ Cup, as opposed to synthetic surfaces, impact the number of European participants trying dirt? “It’s inevitable that it will. The problem is that without any dirt experience in Europe, you’re taking it on trust that your horse will handle the surface. If you go here and run on dirt, and your horse doesn’t perform well, it’s a very expensive exercise. You’ll be thinking, ‘Perhaps we should have run on the turf.’ ”

What do you do away from racing? “I play tennis and enjoy a bit of shooting, working my gun dog. She’s only 2, but she’s showing a lot of promise. Truth is, I’m more interested in working the dog than shooting. My pet dislikes are reality TV shows. As for music, Van Morrison would definitely be on my desert island list.”

Future ambitions: “I’ve had a great run. I want do keep on doing this. I’d like to go to the Melbourne Cup, but that might have to be when I’m retired. It’s too close to the Breeders’ Cup, and I wouldn’t want to give up the Breeders’ Cup.”