Author: Duane Fonseca

Little did Eric Lemartinel know that when he jokingly told Al Adiyat he was going to be top trainer for a few hours it was literally going to be that way, or at least that his position at the summit was about to be threatened by the man who has dominated the UAE Trainers’ Championship over the past few seasons. “I’m at the top for at least the next hour,” an elated Lemartinel quipped. Lemartinel had just stepped off the podium after Abhaar had stormed to victory in the Listed Madjani Stakes at Meydan and was happy to have moved one clear from Ernst Oertel, his longstanding rival when it comes to training Purebred Arabians.

But Doug Watson has a penchant for showing up uninvited when it comes to the championship and after winning five of the six remaining Thoroughbred contests on Thursday’s Meydan card, the American yanked himself up to just one short of Lemartinel’s tally of 16. Was Lemartinel perhaps anticipating what lay ahead? Perhaps. But as the evening unfolded, his nerves would have jangled if he was following the rest of the card, as buoyed by the first rider Pat Dobbs’ four wins and another from Sam Hitchcott, Watson romped up the leaderboard to claim second place. Whatever happens at the end of the season, Lemartinel seems destined to make an impact and push for a tough trainers’ championship race.

The 54yo French handler has looked solid over the past three campaigns and seems to have moved ever closer to the title, suggesting that after 13 seasons things might finally swing his way. Lemartinel shrugged off suggestions of the championship finally materialising this season, hinting winning all of the top Purebred Arabian races was more important. “I would be proud to be Champion Trainer, who would not want to win the title? I think about this too, but we’ll see about it at the end of the season,” Lemartinel told Al Adiyat. “I don’t run after the title I just make sure the horses are sound and healthy. I’ve never been UAE Champion Trainer and last year we were the leading trainer for Purebred Arabian horses but second in the UAE, but that’s not important.

“I would like to win the title someday, any trainer would want to win the championship, but for me it’s about taking it one race at a time and I would like to win all of the big races, like today’s Madjani Stakes. The big goal is to win all of the big races because we are not just a racing operation but we have a breeding farm and we have stallions.” Since taking over as head trainer at HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s Al Asayl Stables in 2015, Lemartinel has thrived. He was fourth in the trainers’ race in his first season there, then third and finished second to Watson last season, who scored 48 to his 37. Prior to his move to Al Asayl, Lemartinel spent nine years at the Ahabi Equestrian Club (ADEC).

Born in a household that farmed for a living in Normandy, France, Lemartinel worked on a farm until he was 14 and then decided to go to the apprentice school in Chantilly. Being too heavy to be a regular Flat racing jockey, he decided to carve a niche for himself in jump racing where he enjoyed a fair bit of success. “Nobody was racing in my family but I always wanted to get into racing. I had over a hundred winners as a jump jockey and about 15 as a Flat jockey,” Lemartinel says. After retiring from the saddle, Lemartinel decided to take up training, with particular emphasis on handling Purebred Arabians. And things seem to have worked out perfectly for him in the UAE where he has been top Arabian schooler for the past three seasons now. “Like any other stable we have a plan in place looking at the season ahead.

So far it has all been going according to plan,” said Lemartinel. “We started training in late July because you need about three months to get the horses in good shape. We have a good crop of 3yos coming through so we knew what to expect and you can see that the good results are coming. “We have the same horses like before and some like Abhaar are not getting any younger, but they deserve our respect because of what they do from time to time. Our focus is on all of the major races like the President’s Cup, the Arabian Triple Crown and then the Kahayla Classic, so you make the plans for the season with the management based on those races.” The Frenchman rose to prominence in 2008 winning the Group 1 Dubai Kahayla Classic on World Cup night with Mizzna. It followed up on the filly’s stunning success in the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown, or National Day Cup as it was known then, which was his first Group One success in the UAE.

Since the Kahayla Classic success, he has added a further 15 wins to his Group One tally, winning every top flight race here at least once so far. Mizzna remains one of his best runners to date, the mare bringing him five Group One successes. Nieshan was another of his stable stars, contributing four to his Group One tally, including three Maktoum Challenge R3 races back to back from 2011 to 2013. The 54yo now desires to achieve the same with Al Asayl. “That’s my ambition. If you ask me what my goals and ambitions are for a season, then I would say it is to win more Group races, especially the Group One races.

That’s what you want to do as a trainer,” he added. “I have spent 13 years here in the UAE and had a very good time at ADEC and when I had the chance to work for Al Asayl, it was the best thing because they are the best Purebred Arabian stable in the UAE. “We have good horses and facilities, but you still have to do the job, but with everything going on well, I hope I can keep doing this for many years.” Lemartinel credited his team and his group of riders: Pat Cosgrave, Olivier Doleuze, Royston Ffrench and Fabrice Veron, for their role in taking Al Asayl Stables forward. “Teamwork is key in racing and everybody has a role to play. The staff we have is good and we have some really top jockeys riding for us so you can’t ask for any better,” Lemartinel said. And does working within the Al Asayl umbrella bring with it added pressure? “If you train horses for any owner you are under pressure to deliver results but at a bigger stable, it’s much better because you have good horses and if you keep doing your job, the results will follow,” he said. And if that happens, Lemartinel might just have plenty to quip about at the end of the season as well.