x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

South Africa stint works out well for Emirati jockey Al Mazrooei

The apprentice, who gave up the corporate world, doubles the number of career wins in two races and is brimming with confidence ahead of Thursday night.

Saeed Al Mazrooei has been assured of rides all season by Ali Rashid Al Raihe, the Emirati trainer.
Saeed Al Mazrooei has been assured of rides all season by Ali Rashid Al Raihe, the Emirati trainer.

While most desert dwellers wound down during the long, hot UAE summer, Saeed Al Mazrooei, the Emirati jockey, was busier than ever this year.

The 28-year-old apprentice, who has five rides in Meydan Racecourse's opening meeting on Thursday night, was attending a renowned school for jockeys in South Africa while pursuing his dream of becoming a top race rider.

Hoping to follow in the footsteps of the Breeders' Cup-winning Emirati, Ahmed Ajtebi, Al Mazrooei found himself rising before the sun to ride up to 25 horses every morning in Johannesburg.

Just one face among hundreds of hopefuls, Al Mazrooei was put to work in the stables, and as soon as morning exercise was over he would head to one of South Africa's racecourses to further his education in the saddle.

"It was hard work," said the rider, who brought home one winner while in South Africa to add to his two wins in the UAE last season.

Despite hailing from a family of endurance riders, Al Mazrooei, who weighs 47kg, was not born in the saddle and has been training to be a race rider for less than 18 months. Before his switch to racing, he was destined for a career in the corporate world following his graduation with a business-studies degree.

Despite that, the animated rider is brimming with confidence after a dream start.

The student of Emirates Racing Authority's UAE Apprentice Scheme doubled his career wins in the season's first two meetings. He is currently on equal terms at the top of the championship with Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid's jockey, Tadhg O'Shea, and Gerald Avranche.

"I'm looking ahead at this season with a good feeling," Al Mazrooei said. "I would like to win 10 more times."

He steered Five Cents to comfortable victory over stablemate Zain Shamardal, ridden by Royston Ffrench, at Jebel Ali on Friday and claimed a winner at Abu Dhabi at the opening meet with Mutual Force. Both rides came courtesy of his mentor and trainer, Ali Rashid Al Raihe, the man behind the meteoric rise of Ajtebi.

"I rode two winners last season and it was great to get off the mark in my first season of riding in races. Now I am very happy to start this season so well," Al Mazrooei said. "Five Cents is a special horse because I rode him to my first win at Jebel Ali last season.

"That really made me thirsty for more. I know it's hard work, and not a life everybody would choose, but this is what I want."

Al Mazrooei plans to keep up his work rate in order to be as fit as possible for any plum rides that may come his way, from Al Raihe.

"I am very lucky that the boss is a very good trainer and a very good teacher," said the rider.

"He has said he will give me rides all season and originally I had a full book [on Thursday] but unfortunately one horse was scratched so I am down to five.

"In South Africa I got very fit because I was riding all the time," he said. "When I first got back to Dubai my fitness dropped because we were just bringing the horses back into work and not galloping them, but it is coming back to me now and I will keep it up."

Al Mazrooei, who claims 3kg, believes he has two good chances to add to his four career wins.

The first comes in the opening 1,200m maiden race aboard the three-year-old Garbah.

The filly was second by a neck in her racecourse debut in England's Windsor in July.

"I have been riding her in the mornings and she is going well," said Al Mazrooei. "I also have a nice ride on Montpellier in the other 1,200m race."

Montpellier, a Carnival runner, was twice runner-up at Meydan last season and, although rated 100, carries only 54.5kg thanks to Al Mazrooei's claim.

He faces stiff competition in the feature Dh90,000 contest, however. Al Raihe's first string, the top-weighted Alazayeb, goes to post under O'Shea while the Ismael Mohammed-trained Qamar, who is ridden by Ajtebi is a model of consistency, having won twice over course and distance last season.

sports@thenational.ae