Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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Ahmad Ajtebi, the grand showman of UAE racing

Ahmad Ajtebi may have slipped off the radar a bit but I think he still is a leading ambassador for UAE sport.

If there is one thing (other than riding winners) that Ajtebi does best, is to really blow the trumpet whenever he wins on the big stage. Ever the showman, he is what you would call a photographer’s delight.

I was at Royal Ascot in 2008 when he became the first Emirati jockey to ride a winner at the highly acclaimed meeting when booting home Regal Parade in the Buckingham Palace Handicap.

Mind you it was never going to be an easy race to win, with 28 horses in the running including the big favourite, Iguazu Falls, who represented Ajtebi’s retaining stable, Godolphin.

But he rode an absolute blinder aboard the long shot to win by half-a-length from Dhaular Dhar, the mount of Daniel Tudhope, with Jimmy Quinn aboard Jedburgh and Franny Northon on Border Music breathing down their necks.

As he was led into the winner’s enclosure I remember Ajtebi bursting into celebrations that would have been more appropriate had he won the Group 1 Coronation Stakes earlier in the day. The Buckingham Palace Handicap was the least prestigious race on day four at the Royal Meeting, being upstaged by the King Edward Stakes (G2), the Albany (G3) and the Queen’s Vase (G3). But that did not matter to him. This was his moment, his 15 minutes of fame, and he was not going to disappoint himself. Not on this day.

Everybody watched, amazed. There were very few photographers who didn’t have their cameras trained on the little bearded Emirati.

He gave the UAE something new to be proud of by being a jockey who can compete with the likes of Mick Kinane, Ryan Moore, Frankie Dettori, and beat them at their own game.

The next year Ajtebi would find more glory at Santa Anita Park on another gigantic stage — the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. And this time the victory was even sweeter, as it came aboard Godolphin’s Vale Of York, who was trained by fellow Emirati Saeed Bin Surour.

Obviously the celebrations would also be bigger. On this occasion Ajtebi chose the UAE flag for a prop, waving it high above his head as scurrying cameramen furiously worked their motor-drives, not daring to miss any move that this energized young ‘foreigner’ would attempt.

And they did not. The next day’s papers, including Gulf News, splashed pictures of Ajtebi doing his thing on the hallowed Santa Anita track.

There would be more reasons and more podiums for him to put on the ‘Ajtebi show’ — Newmarket, Meydan, Bahrain, Qatar… the list goes on.

His most recent stage show was delivered at Mauritius, where he rode two winners in the popular International Jockeys weekend. The UAE flag remains his favourite prop and was used to good effect to wow the sell-out crowd.

I have good reason to believe that one of the first things that Ajtebi packs in his suitcase must surely be the UAE flag.