Author: Howard Wright

QUIETLY, without any great fanfare, a Group Two winning rider is making inroads to the UAE jockeys’ championship table for the first time. Ray Dawson’s steady accumulation of three winners in the first weeks of the new season is typical of the way he has turned round his career and continues the climb away from the depths of despair.

Dawson, now aged 27, has gone from no winner at all from 64 rides in Britain in 2019 to 33 winners from 296 mounts in 2020, to 62 wins from 465 rides to the beginning of this month, when he slipped away from his Newmarket base to spend the winter in the UAE, where his earliest experience is to take over from Connor Beasley as first choice rider at Ahmad bin Harmash’s Al Aasfa Stables.

As befits the upturn in numbers, Dawson’s talents have been acknowledged by a growing band of connections, including trainer Ismael Mohammed, for whom he won his first Pattern race, the Group 3 Princess Margaret Stakes at Ascot in June on Zain Claudette, and then stepped up to Group 2 company on the same filly when taking the Lowther Stakes at York in August.

A trip to the Breeders’ Cup failed to materialise but hopes are still being entertained for a tilt at the early fillies’ Classic next year. Dawson’s eventual arrival in the UAE is perhaps not surprising, given that trainer Mohammed has a second base at Meydan’s Millennium 2 Stables, and Zain Claudette is owned by former Dubai Racing Club chairman Saeed Al Tayer, for whom Dawson also won twice on the three times he rode Nibras Gold.

More that, among the 22 individual trainers for whom Dawson has ridden in Britain this year, the second most successful association, after his score of seven for Mohammed, is the five winners he achieved from just eight rides for Saeed bin Suroor. The assistance of Adam Brook has clearly been of benefit.

The youngest ever agent licensed by the British Horseracing Authority at the age of 21 in 2013, Brook is unusual in having done a foundation course in horse care and management at the Northern Racing College when he left school, spent time as a work rider in Britain, Australia and the US and had a year as a racing secretary with Mark Johnston, before establishing a sports management company that majors on horseracing.

His influence is probably the reason behind Dawson’s decision to take a breather last winter, in order to preserve his 3lb apprentice claim into the more attractive early part of the turf season. A broken collarbone sustained in a race fall in March 2020 brought an unplanned halt to his progress, but that too might have been a blessing in disguise for he was able to make the most of his allowance, until it inevitably disappeared.

Riding out for Roger Varian and Robert Cowell and building on the burgeoning association with Ismael Mohammed and Saeed bin Suroor have held Dawson in good stead. Yet the story could have been so different. Where it was heading can be seen in a video that Dawson and fellow jockey Kieran Shoemark made in a series put together by the Jockeys Education & Training Scheme (JETS) and the Professional Jockeys Association under the generic heading Jockey Matters.

The title of the two riders’ contribution, Substance Abuse & Support, gives the clue to their difficulties, explained in the JETS website introduction: “This film features powerful testimonies from jockeys who speak about the difficult journeys they have been on from addiction to recovery, highlighting some of the key issues faced by jockeys and encouraging others to access the significant amount of support available.”

At the last count, the video, which is easily accessible through Google, has had 7,483 views. A few more from local racing fans will enable a growing number of people to appreciate Dawson’s steady progress through Meydan, Al Ain, Jebel Ali and Abu Dhabi.

HOWARD WRIGHT