Johnny Murtagh makes his season debut at Meydan Racecourse on Saturday night to the backdrop of a revelation that his split from the Aga Khan in August was one of the worst moments of his career.
The 1993/94 UAE champion jockey teams up with Royal Diamond, the Irish raider, in the Group 3 Nad Al Sheba Trophy. The 2,810-metre contest is a stepping stone to the Dubai Gold Cup, run over 3,200m on March 30.
Murtagh's successful association with the Aga Khan came to an end in August when Ursa Major, trained by Thomas Carmody, beat the Aga Khan's Hartani, trained by John Oxx, in the Irish St Leger Trial at the Curragh.
Murtagh, who was not riding at the time, was looking after Ursa Major. Murtagh also owns the stables from which Carmody trains his string and has been assisting him as he bids to become a trainer this year.
"I was just delighted that the horse won," Murtagh said. "Beating John Oxx's horse wasn't great, but I was out injured at the time and I felt that I wasn't doing anything wrong.
"I got a call straight away and spoke to the stud manager and that was it.
"I look back on it now from the other side of the fence and I suppose I was probably naive, but I was only trying to show everybody what I could do.
"I felt very sad. It was a horrible moment in my career, but when I look from the other side, maybe I should have seen it coming a bit earlier."
Royal Diamond won the Irish St Leger in September for Carmody, with Hartani back in eighth.
The seven year old was a little keen in the Group 1 staying event and after a lay-off of 168 days could struggle to last out the full 2,810m against his 10 rivals tonight.
"He's Tommy's only horse in Dubai so he's getting all the attention," Murtagh said. "He's never run over two miles for us, but we think he'll get the Dubai Gold Cup trip as he stays well
" It looks a nice race to start him off in."
Murtagh will be riding against Oxx's Saddler's Rock, who won the Group 2 Goodwood Cup in August but could not hold that form through the rest of the season.
Godolphin sent out their third clean sweep of February on Thursday night when Shuruq led home Lovely Pass and Music Chart in the UAE 1,000 Guineas, and will be represented by three candidates again tonight.
Mahmoud Al Zarooni runs the interesting Tenenbaum, ridden by Mickael Barzalona, while Paul Hanagan continues his association with the Dubai-based operation by riding Balladry.
Saeed bin Suroor will team up with Kieron Fallon and Ahzeemah.
In the Zabeel Mile, Musir is handed another opportunity to get his racing career back on track after he proved infertile at stud.
Last season's Al Rashidiya winner showed up well on his first start when fourth to Mushreq in the Al Fahidi Fort last week.
The seven-year-old stallion faces seven rivals in the Group 2 contest, which is sponsored by Stefan Friborg, the owner of Gloria De Campeao, the 2010 Dubai World Cup winner.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE