With the spirit of patriotism at its yearly zenith following the UAE's national day celebrations, the Emirati jockey Ahmed Ajtebi is proud to be flying his country's flag at the International Jockeys' Championship in Mauritius tomorrow. Ajtebi will be the first Arab to compete in the 55-year-old competition and he is up against some of the world's best, including Frankie Dettori, newly-crowned Irish champion jockey, Johnny Murtagh, Group One-winning Tom Queally and French rider, Stephan Pasquier. "It's a big honour to be invited here," he said from Mauritius. "Wherever I go I represent my country and to be the first Arab to ride in this competition is something I am very happy about." Unlike regular racing, where jockeys are contracted to ride by trainers, under the rules of the two-day championship, runners are assigned to riders through a draw process.
"They have had the draw and I have at least two horses that the locals here say have a good chance," said Ajtebi. "This type of competition is a great leveler because none of the jockeys know too much about the horses they are riding. It comes down to the luck of the draw as well as riding skill." Jockeys' championships tend to be regarded as something a little removed from the serious business of day-to-day racing. But while Ajtebi is taking the opportunity for some rest and relaxation after a long season in Europe and the US, the Breeders' Cup winner has also been getting to grips with his horses. "I rode out on four of my horses this morning and I'll ride the other four tomorrow," he said.
"I'm pretty happy with them to be honest. The track is very tight - it is only six-and-a-half furlongs round and the straight is just one furlong long, so the barrier draw may well come into it. Also, if you don't jump well out of the barrier then it could be very hard to make up the ground later so it's going to be quite tough." The French stalwart Christophe Soumillon was the 2008 winner although he is absent this year as he has riding engagements in Japan. Four races take place on each of the two days, with competition split between the Top Stars Championship, of which Ajtebi is a competitor, the Apprentice Championship and a Ladies Race. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org