Author: Against all odds Oertel hopes to win yet again
UAE CHAMPION TRAINER Ernst Oertel has braced himself for another daunting challenge this season after his third title winning season also saw him add the Dubai World Cup card’s Group 1 Kahayla Classic to an already glowing resume. The South African has had to deal with ordeal after ordeal but has come out tops every time and last season’s massive scalp was perhaps the best for the Desert 1 Stables’ conditioner, who along with his chief employer and UAE Champion Owner, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, and his first choice rider and UAE Champion Jockey, Tadhg O’Shea forged a winning trio that might be equally unstoppable this term.
Unstoppable yes. But indomitable is the word that perhaps describes Oertel’s spirit best. There’s more to it than meets the eye when it comes to the 52yo, who, in addition to his rivals in the trainers’ championship, will be battling a serious bacterial infection in his left leg which has already been amputated at the knee. On a daily basis Oertel must take a high dose of antibiotics to kill the bacteria through an intravenous cannula inserted in his chest. In his case the odds are 50/50. The plot is frighteningly straightforward: either his body battles the bacteria or the consequences could be dire and lead to a further amputation of the leg.
It all began in 2014 when a riding fall resulted in him fracturing his left leg which then became infected and had to be amputated at the knee. Problems resurfaced last year, with a second bout of infection in the leg needing urgent medical attention. It resulted in a lot of down time for Oertel, who was forced to travel to Germany to undergo surgery on his leg. Today, a daily injection administered via the aforementioned cannula is what is helping Oertel fight. But through it all, he chooses to focus on racing and his duties as a trainer, grinding it out as if nothing ever happened. He climbs aboard his tricycle and pedals around the yard delivering instructions to his staff and visits the boxes to whisper to the horses in his care.
Horses like Kahayla Classic winner AF Maher and AF Al Sajanjle peer out from their box doors to greet him warmly after hearing his voice, blinking confusedly at the rest of the faces in the barn. Apart from all that lies at stake during the course of the season, it is one of those things that gets Oertel going. “I suppose you focus a little bit more because your options are a little bit less,” says Oertel. “You have to make sure you do what you’re doing properly. Before perhaps you weren’t focusing that much, but now you’re definitely more focused on the job at hand and you realise it’s my chance to do well and I’m not going to let it slip away. “We’ve always worked hard and gotten things done so that sort of hasn’t changed, but this leg accident has helped me focus a bit more and appreciate it all a bit more because when you have it all taken away and it comes back again, it’s a whole lot nicer to be honest.”
At the end of last term, Oertel had 234 UAE winners to his name and increased his tally during the first weekend’s action at Abu Dhabi last Friday when Noel Garbutt rode Raniah to victory by a length in a Purebred Arabian maiden over 1400m. The 4yo filly is one of many exciting horses in Oertel’s Al Quoz yard that is filled with most of Al Nabooda’s homebreds, though this winner is not one of them.
“We have 30 new horses for the season and about 80 horses in all. I could have had more but it will get too many and the race programme doesn’t cater to them,” Oertel said. “I have quite a few babies at home at Khalid’s farm that we train and they’ll come in and then I’ll send some back, but I have plenty of horses. “I haven’t many overseas horses like the Frenchbreds, only about four or five. There aren’t many races for them so it’s no good having 20 of them.” While plenty of newcomers have been boxed in the barns, Desert 1 Stables’ flagbearers remain, with Oertel having already charted courses for each of them. “AF Maher will be aiming for the Arabian Triple Crown and the Maktoum Challenge. Then there’s the Purebred Arabian race on Saudi Cup day, but I’m not sure if we’ll take him there.
We’ll see but it is a possibility. “We have AF Sajanjle and AF Al Bairaq who are nice horses too. AF Mouthirah with whom we won the Abu Dhabi Fillies Classic, AF La’asae, winner of a conditions event, are all nice horses and we have a couple that are up and coming. “The problem is the programme; isn’t the greatest because there are no good races for horses with a rating of 60-80 and you can’t even run them in the Group races so it’s like you’re really stuck because there’s nothing you can run them in.” Having won the Kahayla Classic, both Oertel and Al Nabooda had been wanting to use the off season here to make an impact in Europe.
However, that second bout of infection threw a spanner in the works for the pair. “We had been planning to do Europe for the past two years, but then with the operation to my leg we had to put everything on the back burner,” Oertel explained. “Khalid has been very, very good and he told me your health comes first. Take care of your leg and then when everything is fine we’ll go ahead with that. “It still is the plan. If we have good enough horses we’ll go and we have good enough horses. We went to France and we were even looking at places where we could train but I didn’t get enough time.” Oertel might not be at the forefront of all the action this year with all that’s going on, but he has vowed to work hard behind the scenes and his hard work and perseverance brought the desired results at Abu Dhabi with Raniah winning.
“Racing every year starts with a clean sheet. You’re the king and then your nothing,” said Oertel, who won his earlier trainers’ titles in 2012/13 and the season that followed. “Tadhg is the same, he is fresh and keen as ever. He understands it and so does Khalid. I’m sure Khalid’s expectations are to do well and mine as well. We have the same kind of horses and, hopefully, it’ll all come well.” Oertel defended his trainers’ title successfully when he won it the first time and faces the same challenge yet again with the added responsibility of retaining the Kahayla Classic. “It’s a race that’s great. In France, there’s a race they call the World Cup, but it’s nothing like the Kahayla, which is fully international and has been like that since its inception.
“It’s on one of the biggest nights in racing and for me that’s one of the biggest races to win and if I had to pick a race, that would be it. “Winning the Kahayla was special, especially for Khalid. He has now bred two winners of it (AF Mathmoon, who was trained by Ali Rashid Al Rayhi and won in the colours of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum). Everyone was telling us he was lucky to win and then you come out and win again. It just showed that it wasn’t luck. “Last year was the best for me because I lost everything and then came back to win. If you dream it, you might just win it.” Whether or not he will deliver, only time will tell. But for those that know Oertel, the show will go on come what may!