x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Patience pays off for Abdullah Al Masoori in his life as a jockey

The Emirati is enjoying picking up tips as he learns his trade after coming into the sport late. Audio interviews

Abdullah Al Masoori has made a promising start to life as a jockey.
Abdullah Al Masoori has made a promising start to life as a jockey.

Abdullah Al Masoori's victory in his first race under rules last week was proof, not only to himself but also to his watching family, that he made the right choice in becoming a jockey.

The race was only a 1,400m handicap up Jebel Ali's energy-sapping dirt hill, but for the apprentice rider, who celebrated with a Frankie Dettori flying dismount, it was an important milestone.

And for his family it was an affirmation that Al Masoori was finally on the right path.

Al Masoori, 22, is not from a racing family. He had dabbled in showjumping at the age of 15, but had not stuck at it. In fact after leaving school he found it difficult to find anything that inspired him. Like many young Emiratis he enrolled in a business studies course but soon decided it was not for him.

"I just didn't feel like it was right for me," he said. "I stopped after two months, I just didn't want to keep going with it. Then I started working but I stopped that, too. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do."

The idea of a career in racing did not even cross his mind until his friend, Saeed Al Mansoori, who takes care of Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed's horses, suggested Al Masoori try out as a jockey.

"It made some sense to me because I am short and my weight is good to be a jockey," he said. "But I didn't agree straight away, I told Saeed I would ask my father."

Al Masoori's father, Mohammed, was not immediately sold on the idea. "No one on my family makes their career in that way, so he was cautious to give me his approval," said Al Masoori.

"All my family work in an office environment and my father was not sure it was a good way for me to spend my life. "

But eventually Al Masoori did enrol in the Emirates Racing Authority UAE Apprenticeship Scheme and was placed with the French trainer Erwan Charpy at the Green Stables, situated behind Meydan Racecourse.

And for a young man who has found it hard to stick at anything so far, Al Masoori is certainly proving a dedicated student.

"It was very tough at the start," he said. "The first few months I really felt it very hard. Getting up at 4am and going to work is not easy if you are not used to it. But when I kept on turning up, everybody helped me and gave me advice.

"Green Stables is a very good place to learn," said Al Masoori. "My boss [Charpy] is a good man to learn from and we are taking it slow and making sure I learn the foundations."

Last summer Al Masoori followed in the footsteps of the Emirati jockey Ahmed Ajtebi and the four-time-winning apprentice Saeed Al Mazrooei and attended the Irish Racing Academy, known as RACE, last summer. There he mucked out, tacked up and rode out four lots per day. He also rode out for the Irish handler Michael Halford.

Now all the hard work has paid off and Al Masoori has achieved the first big step in any aspiring jockey's career - his first win. But the youngster knows that he is a long way from emulating his idol Dettori.

"I am patient," he said. "I am happy to take my progress step-by-step. Most jockeys have many years of experience and I am just listening to all the advice."

The talk around the racecourse is that Al Masoori impressed with that first win.

His mount, the eight-year-old Aqmaar, one of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid's string, was not the favourite yet he won by a head from the home team of James Doyle on the Dhruba Selvaratnam trained Ancien Regime.

Charpy, not one given to exaggeration, said that he was pleased with his young charge adding that he was "a little untidy in the finish" a fact Al Masoori readily acknowledges.

"I was just throwing myself up the horse's neck as if I could cross the finish line for him," said Al Masoori when asked to recall his feeling during the race. "In the starting gates I was nervous, but as soon as they jumped everything went out my head apart from what I had to do."

Al Masoori said that he had never planned to copy the Dettori dismount, but that someone in the crowd had called to him to do it.

"All the trainers and jockeys came to congratulate me," said Al Masoori. "And someone said 'jump'. If you ask me now I couldn't even tell you who it was, but I was just so happy that I did it."

And Al Masoori said that although Dettori is his idol, he has yet to speak to him.

"I've never met him properly," said the rider, who is set to get his second public race at Jebel Ali on March 9. "I just say 'good luck' to him when he goes to parade ring. That is it so far."

Royston Ffrench, the leading UAE jockey, has helped coach Al Masoori.

"It is not common for an apprentice to win first up," said the rider, who has 29 winners so far this season. "To have a first ride and win is very special.

"Abdullah is sound lad and he's willing to learn and work hard. His first ride came in Sheikh Hamdan's colours and it would be easy to get a bit excited, but he just stayed calm and got the job done."

Ffrench has had a hand in the development of a number of Emiratis who are now prominent in the racing world.

As stable jockey for the champion trainer Ali Rashid Al Raihe, Ffrench galloped with the Breeders' Cup-winning Ajtebi and Al Mazrooei.

Grandstand Stables is also the yard where the Godolphin trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni, cut his teeth as assistant to Al Raihe.

"Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid is keen to bring on local trainers and jockeys and Abdullah seems to have his head on his shoulders and to be going about his apprenticeship the right way," Ffrench said.

sports@thenational.ae