x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

The man responsible for the horses of the President

Ernst Oertel draws on his two decades worth of experience in England when working for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed at the Al Asayl Stables.

The South African Ernst Oertel ‘has fitted in perfectly well’, according to Salem Al Ketbi, general manager of the Al Asayl Stables.
The South African Ernst Oertel ‘has fitted in perfectly well’, according to Salem Al Ketbi, general manager of the Al Asayl Stables.

The job of the racehorse trainer for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE, is a high profile and rewarding experience, but the package carries plenty of pressure.

Ernst Oertel, 47, is the latest trainer to take charge of the Al Asayl Stables in Abu Dhabi. The South African is the third man to fill the role in three years after Rod Simpson, the Englishman, and Philippe Barbe, the Frenchman, each vacated the position after one season.

Oertel, who spent almost 20 years in England after his education in South Africa, acknowledged that he was "honoured" to be working for Sheikh Khalifa.

"It was an offer that was too good to turn down," said Oertel. "I received a phone call asking me if I would be interested in the job. It didn't take me much time to decide, and then everything from there onwards has worked out very smoothly for me."

Oertel had instant success at Al Asayl, when debutant Kalahari Desert got him off to a flying start, winning the very first race of the 2011/12 season in Abu Dhabi on October 30. He has saddled four winners so far, with six second-placed finishes.

When asked how he will handle the pressure and demand that has seen his predecessors leave after one season, Oertel said: "I am aware the nature of the job is very demanding and that's not unusual when you work for the head of a state.

"And it is not only here but it is the same in every job all over the world. This is a job that is also very rewarding in terms of training some quality horses. For the moment, it is only the Arabians.

"There are some very good juvenile Arabians, most of them bred in the UAE. Some of them have already won and some have run promisingly on their debuts. And there are the older ones to be aimed at the top-flight prizes.

"Of course we are looking at long-term objectives and everything has gone well so far, since I arrived in August."

Oertel currently has 40 horses in training including a dozen thoroughbreds.

Seraphin Du Paon, the winner of the Dh1 million President's Cup in February and the Kahayla Classic, the Arabian showpiece event on the Dubai World Cup card the following month, is the stables' star.

The five year old is set to take the same path this season with just three races, the first a prep run, followed by the title defences of the President's Cup and the Kahayla Classic.

"He is training well and he has been targeted as the defence of the two big prizes in Abu Dhabi and Dubai," said Oertel. "I have faith in myself and we have good team and we'll go from strength to strength. In racing there are ups and downs, but at the moment everything has worked out well and it has been a great start."

Salem Al Ketbi, general manager of the Al Asayl Stables, was full of praise for the South African.

"He has fitted in perfectly well," said Al Ketbi, the Emirati, who has a trainer's licence and is a former jockey. "He already has had success but the important thing is that he has settled in well and gelled into the system. The two previous trainers had left out of their own choice, but I would like to think Ernst will have a longer association with us. He is very professional and a lovely human being."

Oertel has more than 25 years of experience after spells in the UK and South Africa and saddled more than 650 winners, both Arabians and thoroughbreds.

Oertel worked as a pupil assistant to Lester Piggott, the legendary British jockey, earlier in his career and in 1986 forged an alliance with Sarah Kelleway.

The pair trained over 500 winners. Some of the owners they trained for include Sheikh Khalifa, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid.

"We were doing well at home and I had built up to about 35 horses, but this was too good an opportunity to turn down. We have some lovely horses and great facilities. I am really impressed with the set-up and it is an exciting time in my career."

apassela@thenational.ae

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