Author: Duane Fonseca

THE DEMON of addiction is perhaps the hardest to overcome, but having done that and picked himself up from his lowest low, Ray Dawson has started to feel good about himself and a future that once looked bleak. The Irish rider has been firing on all cylinders, since leaving substance abuse furlongs behind in his race to become a top class jockey.

“That’s what I always wanted to be… it’s what I had dreamed of becoming all along, but somewhere things were messed up,” Dawson, who rode out his claim earlier this year, told Al Adiyat. Racing can be harsh, particularly for jockeys. Dawson wasn’t an exclusion and found the early years hard, as the undulations of the sports highs and lows tossed him about unceasingly until he went off course and tried to comfort himself by numbing the pain he felt through the use of substances.

He tried doing things on his own, but found himself in a vicious circle: back at where he started, day after day. It was then that he realised he needed professional help. After admitting he had a problem, Dawson was steered towards change and managed to turn things around completely with the help of Sporting Chance, a mental health charity for current and former athletes set up by ex-England footballer Tony Adams.

“I knew I had a problem and I just put my hand up and asked for help. It took a long time because I was embarrassed and afraid, but as soon as I did that my life was better,” added Dawson, who struggled to hold down jobs at the time. “It’s (addiction) the ultimate and it destroys everything. Not only your career, that’s the least important thing that it destroys.

“It destroys you as a family and destroys you as a person… it destroys everything. You don’t get anything from it at all, but tears and misery and an early death so I’m very lucky to be here.” Sporting Chance gave him the second chance he needed and after successfully completing his rehabilitation, he is back among the winners and back at the top in some style.

Dawson marked his full-time return in 2020 by riding 33 winners in 296 rides in Britain at a strike rate of 11%. The numbers looked even better this year as he signed off with 62 winners from 465 rides giving him a strike rate of 13%. Add to that the success he has started to achieve in Stakes level racing and it starts to taste all the more sweeter.

Dawson has enjoyed most of his big race wins aboard Britain based Emirati trainer Ismail Mohammed trainees with Good Effort delivering the pair victory in the Listed 2020 Golden Rose Stakes and Zain Claudette supplying the duo a Group double in 2021 when winning the Group 3 Princess Margaret Keeneland Stakes at Ascot and then the Group 2 Lowther Stakes at York. Dawson rides for numerous other high profile trainers including Roger Varian for whom he won the Listed 2021 Sunningdale August Stakes aboard Teona.

“Zain Claudette has been very lucky for me,” said Dawson. Having closed out his 2021 campaign in Britain with his highest ever score of 62 wins pushing his career tally to 105, Dawson decided it was time to move overseas. Riding in the UAE had long been on his mind, and things finally materialised when a vacancy opened up at Ahmad bin Harmash’s yard in Al Marmoom.

These are early days, but Dawson’s rookie season in the UAE has started productively with nine wins from 91 rides. Also worth noting are the further nine runners-up and 13 third place finishes he has enjoyed so far. “I’ve always wanted to come over. I wanted to come here last year, but with Covid-19 it just didn’t materialise and then this year I was looking for a job.

Carl Hodgson, my agent here, rang me and said Ahmad was looking for a jockey and wanted to have me. He asked if I wanted the job. It was a nobrainer,” Dawson explained. “I’m very happy with the start we’ve made and lucky that my boss Ahmad’s horses are in very good form. He’s had a very good start to the season, so it’s been very enjoyable.”

Dawson is enjoying his time aboard Purebred Arabians and has ridden two winners so far, one each for the trainers Jaci Wickham (Wakeel W’Rsan, 1400m handicap at Abu Dhabi) and Irfan Ellahi (JAP Aneed, 1000m handicap at Al Ain). “I’ve ridden Arabians before in England, but it’s very, very rare, perhaps once a month, because there’s not many races like here.

“They’re obviously differently bred so they have different racing styles and they aren’t as fast as Thoroughbreds. It’s different riding them, but they’re very good.” Dawson did his homework before landing in the UAE and knew he would have his work cut out with the domestic season bent majorly towards racing on dirt. “I knew it was going to be a lot different, because there’s just one turf track here and it’s mainly dirt racing apart from the carnival,” Dawson said.

“To be honest, I just wanted to try and do my best and get as many winners as I could and it has started off better than I would have imagined.” “Mudallel here at Meydan has been the most memorable win so far because it’s such a great track and to ride a winner here was special. It was Ahmad’s first winner here at Meydan this season.

He had a lot of Jebel Ali winners and he had a double that night and it was nice to show he could do it at this track. “King Leo’s win at Jebel Ali was a real nice victory too.” Dawson’s decision to become a jockey was as much of a no-brainer as taking up the job at Bin Harmash’s. “There’s never been a jockey in my family and I was 16 when I left school to become a jockey,” Dawson said. “My uncle Luke McMahon owns horses in Ireland and growing up I always went racing.

It was always in my family. My cousin (Aubrey McMahon) is an amateur jockey in Ireland now, but I was the first. So we’re the only ones that have been jockeys but there’s always been horses in our lives. “My mum went to the races as she worked for my uncle who was a bookmaker. So from a young age I’ve always been to the races, the Cheltenham Festival and mainly National Hunt because my uncle owns horses in jump racing.

That’s how my interest started.” Dawson added: “I started off in Ireland and had a good couple of seasons there as an apprentice. “I had some good success with trainers like Charles O’Brien, Eddie Lynam, and later went over to the United Kingdom. I wasn’t riding for about 3-4 years and then the last couple of years I rode a bit for Roger Varian and Robert Cowell and had good success with Ismail Mohammed last year and the year before.

“It’s just snowballed really and the last couple of years have been very, very successful for my career.” Dawson won’t mind a similar snowball effect to show for his time in the UAE. He has set the clump into motion, now it’s a matter of the momentum adding more swell as the weeks and months roll by.

“My goal, before I came here, was to get 25 winners and I’m on the road to doing that,” Dawson said. “I would love to get a Dubai World Cup Carnival winner. A Listed or a Group win would be fantastic, especially for Ahmed, because he’s been very, very supportive. So yeah it would be nice just to shine this season. To do that would be brilliant.”