x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Ajtebi's California dream

The Emirati jockey Ahmed Ajtebi provides a solitary Godolphin victory in the two-day Breeders' Cup meet at Santa Anita, California.

Ahmed Ajtebi celebrates after guiding Vale of York to victory at the Breeders' Cup in California.
Ahmed Ajtebi celebrates after guiding Vale of York to victory at the Breeders' Cup in California.

The Emirati jockey Ahmed Ajtebi provided a solitary Godolphin victory in the two-day Breeders' Cup meet at Santa Anita, California, guiding shock winner Vale of York across the line in the US$2million (Dh7.3m) Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Saturday. That win over a synthetic 1-mile 110-yard course may encourage the Dubai racing operation to give the son of Invincible Spirit a shot at the 2010 Kentucky Derby after a winter campaign on Meydan's Tapeta surface.

Ajtebi was delighted after his victory. "I can hardly believe I've won a race at the Breeders' Cup," he said. "It's like World Cup day, I don't think I can get my head around it." He became the first Emirati jockey to win a race on Dubai World Cup night last season when he triumphed in the Duty Free and the Sheema Classic, races worth US $5m each. This Breeders' Cup triumph represents a greater achievement on a young horse trained by Saeed bin Suroor in England, who had never raced on anything but turf before.

Vale of York was not rated by American bookmakers, who instead favoured the unbeaten Lookin at Lucky, one of the country's best two-year-olds. Ajtebi said his ride should have been held in higher regard. "He should not have been an outside chance," said the jockey who Godolphin partnered with Vale of York from the two-year-old's maiden at York in July. "He won first time out and when he was fifth in his next run with a different jockey he was still very green and hesitated.

"But he won a good race at Goodwood after that and was third at Ascot. "He was second last time out on soft ground, so he's really come on this season." Settling just off the pace in fourth, Vale of York creeped up to third and, angling off the rail, picked up strongly inside the final furlong to beat Lookin at Lucky by a head. Ajtebi will return to Dubai to take in races at Jebel Ali before travelling to Mauritius for the International Jockeys Championship in December.

"I've had an amazing run," said Ajtebi. "Out of 100 rides, I have won two Group Ones, two Group Threes and three Listed races." Midshipman, Godolphin's one-time Kentucky Derby hope, was third in the Grade One Dirt Mile under jockey Garrett Gomez. Frankie Dettori won for John Gosden aboard Pounced in the Grade Two Juvenile Turf. The day belonged to the unrivalled mare, Zenyatta, who has never lost a race.

She added a 14th unbeaten run to her tally and made history when she beat the boys the hard way in the $5m Breeders' Cup Classic. There was barely a dry eye in the house as the John Shirreffs-trained five-year-old overcame a poor start which saw her trailing the leaders by 11 lengths. With no way through, Mike Smith sent the mare wide where she motored past US turf champion Gio Ponti, trained by Christophe Clement, and the Henry Cecil-trained European raider Twice Over, ridden by Tom Queally, to win by a length.

stregoning@thenational.ae