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By Graham Potter | Sunday, March 20, 2022

You’ll have to go a long way to find the level of precision pointed focus that trainer Michael Costa brings to all aspects of his brand. While absolute perfection is never entirely attainable, by constantly pinpointing the path in that direction and priming his team to embrace his philosophy and standards, Costa has built a highly successful racing stable on the Gold Coast in a relatively short space of time since relocating from Sydney in 2016. Now, Costa is on the move again … a very much upward move … which will see him take on the privileged challenge of becoming the personal trainer to Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid al Maktoum in Dubai. HRO’s Graham Potter spoke to Costa about these exciting new developments in the life of the young trainer.

HRO: “Michael, in the September 2018 edition of Race magazine, when asked about your move from Sydney to the Gold Coast, you were quoted as saying, ‘Sydney prize-money is obviously very good, but it didn’t make sense for a small stable like mine to be competing against people like Godolphin.’ Can you believe the irony in that, and the difference five years of hard work can make?”

Costa: “It’s still very surreal because of how quickly things have unfolded. To get an offer out of left field and to basically become a James Cummings of the Northern Hemisphere overnight is quite amazing … in that jurisdiction in Dubai … yeah, it is quite crazy but I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”

HRO: You have come a very long way in a relatively short space of time."

Costa: “It just goes to show … when you look back, you can connect the dots. You just got to keep chipping away and staying genuine. I think it comes down to compound interest that goes into every interaction and treating every owner with the best intent and always doing the right thing by people. An example of what I mean is that, with the references and the due diligence that the ARM Racing team did over there before they contacted me, they gave a few of the references and, it’s funny, I can still remember the first time I met those people and the interactions I have had with them and being genuine with them … and now its all come back to pay me back … not even ten-fold, but whatever it might be.”

HRO: ”Among those references, there had to be a person … or maybe even more than one person … who threw your name into the hat originally. Have you been able to identify that source?”

Costa: "As I’ve said, they definitely did their due diligence and they asked the question of many people around the world … so, no, I’m not exactly sure of the first, initial start point, but I know they were looking pretty much all over the world before they ended up homing in on me in Australia. I know they had a lot of offers from some leading trainers around the world … it was a tough field to beat … but, yeah, without me pursuing it, I was lucky enough that they identified me and wanted me to take up the role which is very surreal and I’m very grateful to Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid al Maktoum for picking me and I’m confident he has made the right choice."

HRO: "Ticks of approval don’t come much bigger than this. It must do wonders for your self-belief in the path you are following?”

Costa: "It does, but I stay extremely humble. You have to in this game, but you also have to back yourself, and that was one of my main driving forces in making my decision to go to Dubai. I believe I can get the stable to where it wants to be.”

HRO: "That leads us nicely into another of your quotes from that 2018 article. You said, ‘I left a lot of good horses in Sydney (the subsequent Golden Slipper winner She Will Reign being the prime example), but I never doubted myself because it was a move I had to make if I wanted to establish myself as a trainer. I came to Queensland looking at the bigger picture."

HRO: "Different time and very much a different level you are stepping up to this time … but in essence, the core substance of what you said there applies all over again, except now the bigger picture is a global stage … a bigger, bigger picture!”

Costa: ”Yeah, that’s quite funny. It’s almost like I’ve written a vision board in that article … and it’s unfolded. The law of attraction. There you go.”

HRO: "The call-up came out of nowhere. When you finally processed what was happening though and realised it was real, you must have had a bit of a tingle going through your body in that moment?"

Costa: ”That’s exactly right. It was a Tuesday night. On a Tuesday I’m normally wrecked by the end of the day. It’s our busiest gallop morning day. I was off the bed and got the voice mail. I let it go to voice mail because it was a strange number and normally it is a telemarketer at that time. I listened to it and called back … and from being so tired with my eyes falling out of my head to taking the call and then pretty much not sleeping for the rest of the night thinking about … it was pretty funny.”

HRO ”How did your family react to the news?”

Costa ”My wife Mel came over to Dubai with me. We went over with an objective mindset. I said, let’s not just look at this as all brand new and shining until we know more and let’s ask the hard questions. We did that. My wife is very close to her family. We’ve got my parents here who are very close to my three young boys … Harvey, Hunter and Hugo … so there was definitely a lot to consider. Mel has deep beliefs in what I can achieve and, with the support of the stable and having seen first hand what it is all about, Mel, like me, thought it was a great opportunity for me to showcase my training ability.”

”Cliché’s like, ‘an opportunity of a lifetime’ … ‘life-changing’ … invariably come to mind in these instances. Would you call that a fair description of what is happening?”

Costa: ”It really is every trainer’s dream to be able to really focus on two things … that is to find the best bloodstock and train them. It is great to be able to just concentrate on getting the best out of the horses while removing the noise of having to handle accounts and staff … and all of the other hats that Australian trainers have to wear. To be free to lazer-focus on just getting the best out of the horse is every genuine horseman and trainer’s dream.”

HRO ”And, of course, there is one other big difference between training in Dubai and Australia?”
Costa:”Absolutely. Time. Being a trainer in Australia with so much racing you are working 365 days a year … and, if you do manage to get a day off the phone continues to ring, so there is no real opportunity to holiday or for downtime and things like that. To have the opportunity to showcase that part of the world to our kids is something we have never had the opportunity to do and its something that are going to be exposed to now."

HRO: ”As you mentioned, you have already been over to have a look at the set-up in Dubai. Tell us more about that?”

Costa: "When Mel and I went over to Dubai, we asked a lot of hard questions, but I was just blown away by the management team over there and the people I will be working with. It really blew me away how loyal they are and how keen they are to get positive results. We quickly realised that the opportunity was far bigger than we even anticipated from what we were able to gather while still in Australia. When we got there, we got a real grasp of exactly what they wanted from us and exactly what they wanted to achieve … and it was all far bigger than we had originally thought, so, yeah, it’s pretty exciting.”

HRO: ”You obviously have things that need tidying up before you leave for Dubai. Your current stable … lots of horses … lots of owners … staff … how is the transition /change going to be handled?”

Costa ”Yeah, I’ve got sixty-five horses in work and one hundred and twenty horses on the books, so things have been growing and going very nicely. I’ve already had discussions with the stable’s major syndicates. Basically, what we will be doing is giving every single syndicate the opportunity to vote on what they want to do. I will be giving a guide on four or five trainers where I would personally be happy to have my own horses trained, but, ultimately, it is going to come down to a majority vote of each individual syndicate. It won’t be a stable takeover scenario and the stable won’t stay together as such … but what I will be doing is ensuring that all of my staff members have a job before we close down at the Gold Coast. I will be taking some of my staff with me. So, those are two important things that have to be dealt with … going through that voting process and looking after the staff. There is no way around it. There is a lot of work to be done. There is going to be a lot of emails and phone calls, but I care more about my brand and my legacy than currency, so I want to finish on a high note, doing everything correctly.”

HRO: “Given all that you still have to attend to, have you been given any particular timeframe to relocate … or have they allowed you some leeway in that regard?”

Costa "One of the requests from me was that I didn’t want to leave Australia until all of the loose ends were tied up and the job done properly and they were very supportive of that … not only supportive, but they respected that request and I think it encouraged them that they had chosen the right person. So, we’ll be staying for as long as it takes. If I had to give you a rough forecast, I’d say it will be in the next three months, but that is just a rough forecast. We will ultimately just take it day by day … and tweek and pivot as we go … to make sure that the transition process is seamless for everybody involved and that the next trainer is set up for success as much as possible."

HRO: ”Again, another similarity to your previous move, you will be leaving a couple of good horses behind.”

Costa: “Most definitely. The main thing I want to see … I want to see the horses we selected this year, which I think are some of the best yearlings we have ever had, do well. I think there is some really good horses there and, hopefully, another She Will Reign in there that I can cheer on from Dubai.”

HRO: “Any last thoughts?”

Costa ”I really think the intent of the Dubai Racing Club to drive and focus on driving the racing product there is important. When they lock their eyes onto something they get it done … so I’m excited to see what is going to happen with Dubai Racing in the next fives years in general and even more excited to be part of it as well. Hopefully, along the way, I’ll be looking at bringing a couple raiders down under and taking the Aussies money.”

HRO: "Maybe in a couple of year’s time, if that happens, we’ll be using that quote, as we have done with past references in this interview, to remind us of your … what did you call it … your ‘vison board’ that you left with us this time around."

Costa: ”That would be good. From where the stable is now and with the goals I want to achieve, it is not going to be overnight. The reason Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid al Maktoum put his trust in me is that we want to have a long relationship where we can achieve many goals together.”

And while in quest of that international success, there can be little doubt that Costa will do Australia proud.

More articles

Plenty to celebrate ... Michael Costa, at the trophy presentation, surrounded by very happy connections after She Can Sing had taken out the Military Rose Plate
Plenty to celebrate ... Michael Costa, at the trophy presentation, surrounded by very happy connections after She Can Sing had taken out the Military Rose Plate
Michael Costa with Gillian Heinrich, who claimed a famous Magic Millions victory with Military Rose in 2010
Michael Costa with Gillian Heinrich, who claimed a famous Magic Millions victory with Military Rose in 2010
Always for the love of the horse
Always for the love of the horse
Costa might be headed for Dubai but he not finished in Australia just yet. He saddled two feature race winners on the Aquis Jewel Day at the Gold Coast ...

She Can Sing (above and below) in the Military Rose Plate ...
Costa might be headed for Dubai but he not finished in Australia just yet. He saddled two feature race winners on the Aquis Jewel Day at the Gold Coast ...

She Can Sing (above and below) in the Military Rose Plate ...
... and Derulo (above and below) in the Gold Jewel
... and Derulo (above and below) in the Gold Jewel
Photos: Graham Potter and Darren Winningham
Photos: Graham Potter and Darren Winningham
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