Abu Dhabi: Fatma Al Merri and Shattra Al Hajjaj will become the first female jockeys from the UAE when they don the silks in an official race to be held in Duindigt, The Netherlands on June 19.
Thanks to instructions from Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance, the two endurance riders at his Seih Assalam Stables have been chosen to race in the Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Flat Racing Festival's Her Highness Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Fegentri Cup race.
"For us this is a big step for our country. Shaikh Hamdan instructed me to support the Shaikh Mansour Festival and encourage Emirati jockeys," said Ali Al Muhairi, Racing Manager for Shaikh Hamdan.
"Both Fatma and Shattra have been very good endurance riders and now they have been training every day to take part in the flat race," he told Gulf News.
"We have two experienced jockeys training them and they have said that both Fatma and Shattra have been improving by the day. We have installed a starting gate and have also made an oval shaped course so that they train to race on the bends," said Al Muhairi, who is among the top endurance riders in the country.
Speaking to Gulf News, Shattra said she was looking forward to the new experience. "I am excited ever since I was named to race in Holland. I have to thank Shaikh Hamdan and Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak for all the support," said Shattra who has quit her job to take up equestrian sport full time.
Excel in flat racing
"I was 54kg when I started but now I am 52 and we have been working very hard. I have been involved in endurance riding for about a year now and have taken part in many events," she said.
Fatma has already won endurance rides and is hoping to excel in flat racing too. "I am very keen to do well. I have gained a lot of experience in the last two years in endurance and now I am really enjoying this exciting new prospect," said the Grade 12 student of Al Rayya School.
"The facilities provided by Shaikh Hamdan for us are very useful and we want to do well for his sake and for the country's sake. It has been very exciting since we started training for the flat races and I want to stay focused," said the Emirati school girl.
The prize money for the Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Fegentri Cup race to be held on June 19 at the Duindigt race course in The Netherlands is €20,000 (Dh108,714).