Forced to retire from his passion at the age of 15 for weighing over 25kgs; Ahmed Ajtebi went from a camel rider with 200 wins and 3000 camel races under his belt to a horse jockey. At 22, a lunch with his Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai Ruler of Dubai, changed his life.
Sheikh Mohammed acknowledged that UAE horses have been well recognised by competing around the world. Dubai has generously given horse racing everything except for one thing…an Emirati Jockey. With a hidden bragging tone he said, “I never sit on a horse before, but Sheikh Mohammed sees something that no body sees before; he asked me to try something new and I said alright.”
Under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed, Ajtebi was taught how to Jockey; he went to jockey school, travelled to different countries, and was taught by some of the best trainers, “I started from zero, I learned how to ride and also to speak English.”
The new Arabian rider proved that there is no such thing as too old to start learning how to jockey. He laughs every time he’s asked about the similarities between riding camels and horses and says, “They have four legs and run very fast.”
The Camel Jockey turned tables around in the competitive world of horse racing. In such a short period he was able to make a name for himself, and raise the bar for his country. After achieving 19 winners out of 85 rides in South Africa, six winners out of 26 in England, and have been crowned the champion apprentice in Dubai with 11 wins, Ajtebi was ready to compete against the best riders in Europe.
In 2008, Ajtebi took the racing world by surprise and jockeyed a winner on his first attempt at Royal Ascot in the Buckingham Palace, Handicap onboard Regal Parade.
The numbers of wins were on the rise as he continued to race. He hit the jackpot with his double win that mounted to $10 million at the Dubai World Cup. Gladiatorus, the horse he rode at the Dubai Duty Free round was officially labeled the best horse in the world after their extraordinary win. This victory was one of its kind; it was the first time where the jockey, the trainer, and the horse owner were Emiratis. In the Dubai Sheema Classic, Ajtebi rode Eastern Anthem to first place snatching the title in one of the fiercest and longest rounds. Victoriously he said after the race, “Technically I was still classed as an apprentice and there I was, in my own backyard so to speak, winning these two international $5million races in about an hour. It was like a dream.”
Ajtebi made history in 2009 with his striking performance riding Vale of York to the finish line, and winning the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, California. With the Emirati flag he bought the same morning wrapped around his neck, he became the first Arab to ever win this race. “This is beyond my wildest dreams; I learnt then that there is no limit. I was happy, not just for myself but for all those who had supported me. He said that by winning he was able to show Sheikh Mohammed a fraction of his appreciation for giving him Vale of York to ride that night. This race also holds a special place because his father who passed away the same year was watching him, “Our eyes locked after the race and I could see that he was happy.”
A Man of the Desert
Traveling the world and winning races in four continents in 12 different countries only made Ajtebi hold on tighter to his culture. Deep in the desert beyond the sand dunes Ajtebi goes back every now and then to reflect, spend time with his family, and relax in his farm. In between his falcons and camels, this is what he calls home. Growing up, he was very close to his father, “I spend the whole of my life with my father, always with him everywhere in the farm and the camel stables”. He has been very keen to teach his son how to work with camels and falcons the same way he was taught and passing on words of wisdom “I tell my son what my father taught me if you want to learn, then mingle closely with your elders. They are the best teachers.”
As he continues to win, and enjoys the success; Ajtebi has so much more to prove “I am still beginning, I am aware that I have some great wins in my career but they are not enough.” Being the only Emirati professional jockey puts a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. He acknowledges that now more eyes are on him and many have put their hopes, dreams, and trust on him. “I want to be seen as a jockey who rides for his country and plants the UAE’s national flag across every racecourse in the world,”