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Agonising moments driving Ajtebi on

Emirati jockey says he dreams about winning the Dubai World Cup at Meydan after two close misses

Image Credit: Francois Nel/Gulf News
Areem ridden by jockey Ahmed Ajtebi won the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 sponserd by Longines at Meydan Racecourse first carnival Meeting.
Gulf News

Ahmad Ajtebi has a confession to make — he hasn’t stopped dreaming.

And you can’t really blame him for that. Twice in three years he has come within touching distance of winning a race that’s the No 1 objective of every jockey on the planet — the $10m (Dh36.7m) Dubai World Cup (G1).

In 2010 he was a heart-stopping third to Gloria de Campeao, having been denied by the narrowest of margins. And then last year he had the finish line in his sights only to be reined in by Mickael Barzalona, a young upstart who was so talented and confident that he stood high in his stirrups aboard Monterosso after he flashed past Ajtebi to land the richest prize in the world.

Ajtebi relives those two agonising moments almost every time his head hits the pillow. He was dreaming again on Thursday night after winning the Al Maktoum Challenge (G1) for the first time on the opening night of the Dubai World Cup Carnival. Crossing the finishing post at Meydan accompanied by the raucous cheers of a partisan crowd is an exhilarating experience, admits Ajtebi.

It’s an emotion that he craves to savour in the Dubai World Cup.

“I still dream about winning the Dubai World Cup,” says Ajtebi, who partnered Areem to land the Purebred Arabian version of Al Maktoum Challenge (Round 1). It’s what motivates me every time I get into the saddle. It’s what drives me. The World Cup is every jockey’s dream but winning it will mean more to me than any other rider because this is where I was born. I want to be successful in front of my fellow Emiratis and make them proud.”

Ajtebi has, in recent months, taken some big steps towards that great achievement.

This season alone he has won some of the biggest races on offer for Purebred Arabians by forging a successful partnership with former endurance champion Majed Al Jahouri.

Late last year, he became the first Emirati jockey to win the prestigious National Day Cup (G1) with Areem having followed on from a similar success in the Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Prestige Cup.

Thursday’s victory in the Al Maktoum Challenge has thrust Ajtebi and Al Jahouri into the big-race picture, with the Dubai Kahayla Classic (G1) on Dubai World Cup night looming large for the partnership.

“Areem has so much speed for an Arabian that will be very severely tested by a trip over 10 furlongs, like the Kahayla Classic,” says the jockey. “But that’s the race we would want to win. So [we] have no choice but to run in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge series over 2000m to see just how well he stays. We don’t really know, but we won’t find out unless we try.

“Majed is a very talented trainer and he’s done a great job with the horse, so it’s now up to him to put a an extra two furlongs into his tank. Should he run well, then it will be the Kahayla Classic.”

Would that appease his hunger for big race success?

“I treat every race the same way, there’s no difference for me. I give 100 per cent every time I sit on a horse.” Ajtebi says. “But the Dubai World Cup is something else, it’s like no other. You can feel the buzz when you’re riding in the race.”

Commenting on his burgeoning partnership with Al Jahouri, Ajtebi says: “He is one of the Emirati trainers with a lot of potential and I think he’s going to really make a name for himself in racing circles. He’s a horseman through and through. Often he sees something in a horse that you and I can’t see. He has this thing for them and that’s what made him such a good endurance rider.

“Obviously those skills come in handy when you train racehorses as well. Majed is a very patient man, he doesn’t expect wonders from a horse, he’s willing to wait for the horse to prove itself. It takes a lot to have those qualities as a trainer, because there is so much pressure to succeed. But Majed does not fall into the trap, he does things his way, and most of the time he comes up a winner.”