x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Emirati jockey blazing own path

Like many young men entering adulthood, Saeed al Mazrooie was unsure of a career path, but he is now a star in the making.

Ahmed Ajtebi, at Meydan Racecourse, was the first Emirati jockey to emerge as an international star.
Ahmed Ajtebi, at Meydan Racecourse, was the first Emirati jockey to emerge as an international star.

DUBAI // Like many young men entering adulthood, Saeed al Mazrooie was unsure of a career path. Then the 22-year-old Emirati worked it out for himself. He would become a jockey. "I have always liked horses and have been following racing. I had a physique of a jockey and that's what really inspired me to try my hands on this job," said al Mazrooie, who weighs 47kg and stands 1.62 metres tall.

He knew that Ahmed Ajtebi, also an Emirati, had become an international racing star while riding for the powerful Godolphin stable. Al Mazrooie took the step of dedicating himself to the sport. After five months of training in the stables, the Emirates Racing Authority (ERA) has chosen him to travel to Ireland for four months to study at the Racing Academy Centre for Education, the institution from which Ajtebi emerged.

Yasir Mabrouk, the ERA official who oversees apprentice programs, believes al Mazrooie could be a star in the making. "This is the path Ahmed [Ajtebi] took and I believe Saeed can be as successful as him if he stays focused on his own abilities and doesn't start thinking out of the box," Mabrouk said. "So far, he has done well. He is ambitious, determined and is enjoying his work." Al Mazrooie, however, would prefer not to be known for travelling on a trail blazed by Ajtebi.

"When I am successful with my apprenticeship, I don't want to be remembered as someone who followed in the footsteps of Ahmed," he said during an interview at the Meydan Hotel. "I want to do my own thing and be successful with my own brand." He added: "Ahmed is the first Emirati jockey to have had a lot of success internationally, but it wasn't his success that made me decide to take this path." Al Mazrooie's real education in racing began in the Grand Stand stable with the menial jobs that mark the early days of most great riders, cleaning stalls and grooming horses.

His day starts as early as 5am. By 11am he has finished his first shift. The second begins at 4pm and continues until 7pm. In five months under Ali Rashid al Raihe, the champion trainer at the Grand Stand Stables, al Mazrooie has displayed perseverance in working towards his goal. He knows that is was al Raihe who also helped Ajtebi in his formative years before retaining him as his stable's second jockey.

Al Raihe has been impressed with al Mazrooie. "He has gone through all the basic work from cleaning the muck from the stables to grooming the horses, which is the toughest part for a young Emirati these days. "Otherwise, he possesses the right height and weight for a jockey and, more importantly, a strong mind." Al Mazrooie treats the Emirati trainer as a father figure who has taught him many important methods for taking care of horses.

Royston Ffrench, the stable jockey, has also been a mentor to al Mazrooie, taking it upon himself to impart riding tips which should help the youngster pursue a career. Mabrouk said Ajtebi has laid out the path for Emiratis to follow if they wish to become jockeys. Three others have attempted it, but they failed to progress beyond their apprenticeship. "The jockeys have to be conscious of their weight and they need to be up early to work on the horses," Mabrouk said. "Besides, Ahmed had no one to look up to. Everything he did was for the first time and his success can't be measured in terms of the regular schooling.

"He came from a humble background and remains the humble guy whom I knew for more than seven years." Ajtebi, 29, never fails to mention Mabrouk's role during his formative years as a jockey. Ajtebi rode into history by becoming the first Emirati to ride a winner at Royal Ascot when he steered Regal Parade to victory for the trainer Dandy Nicholls in 2008. Last year, he rode a Group One double at the Dubai World Cup meeting on Gladiatorus and Eastern Anthem, and later claimed the Breeder's Cup Juvenile Stakes at Santa Anita, California, on Vale of York.

Al Mazrooie may travel in the same circles some day. But first he must get his apprentice licence. When he comes home to Dubai from Ireland, he will return to Grand Stand Stables, and al Raihe could nominate him as an apprentice, subject to ERA approval. Al Mazrooie expects to be riding at tracks in the UAE before the year is out, on his way to becoming the second professional Emirati jockey in the nation.

Said al Mazrooie: "I am confident I can be riding this season." apassela@thenational.ae