Author: Duane Fonseca

From riding horses on her family farm in Loberia Provincia de Buenos Aires, a small town about 500km south of Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, to training Purebred Arabian winners in Abu Dhabi, Ana Mendez has come a long way. The Argentine horsewoman, once a regular on the endurance circuit in the UAE and a veteran among overseas women in distance riding here, acquired her training licence just before the 2019/20 UAE racing season would get underway but created waves almost immediately when saddling a brace on the Sharjah card of 2 November. On that day she went toe to toe with seasoned veteran Ernst Oertel, who also signed off with a double. “I had three winners in the beginning and, maybe, I think it was a case of beginner’s luck,” Mendez, 32, told Al Adiyat.

“We will keep trying to get more but the season is hard and long and you do need a lot of horses available every weekend to keep winning, but we will keep working.” Mendez trains for HH Sheikh Mansoor bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is the Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE and Minister of Presidential Affairs, which means she has quality at her disposal at her base at Wathba Stables in Abu Dhabi. Before last weekend, from a total of 31 runners she sent out, 12 had finished among the prize money and can be further broken down into three winners, two runners-ups, four third place finishers and three that ran in fifth. A fourth winner followed almost immediately with Brehaan victorious at Sharjah on Saturday.

Saarookh turned out to be her first winner when claiming a 2200m handicap at Abu Dhabi, with the two maidens on the said Sharjah card, Rawaa and Fandim, adding to her tally. Mendez has been working in the UAE for over 14 years, most of them as an endurance trainer cum rider for which she has just the 2010 CEN 90km Dubai Endurance City Ladies Cup trophy to show for her efforts. Few are blessed to know what we are called to do in life, Mendez is one of them. Horses had always been in her blood and she had embarked on a career in riding at the rather tender age of eight in the field of endurance, pursuing academics along the way. But once done with high school, she knew she had to get away from Buenos Aires to take things further.

“The UAE was an automatic option for me because I knew a lot about the endurance riding circuit here because we used to have a lot of people coming over to buy horses,” Mendez explained. “I was doing endurance since I was eight in Argentina and I am a three star rider. I won a race here in the UAE a few years ago, a ladies’ race and I always try to keep riding, this is what I’ve done since very small and horses are what I know how to do best.

“I came to the UAE when I was 17 and started riding for HH Sheikh Mohammed’s stables and working with a Spanish trainer. I was there for four years and then after that I moved to private owners as an endurance trainer and rider and then two years later I went to work in Ras Al Khaimah with another private owner as a trainer and finally I reached Al Wathba Stables.” Having grown up on a farm, Mendez learned to ride from her father, who also handed her brother Hugo an education in horse riding. Once the foundation was built, Mendez just knew the course she had to ride along. “I grew up on a farm in Argentina, we were 500km to the south of the capital Buenos Aires,” she explained. “My family has always been involved in horses and I have a brother who is an endurance rider as well and he’s doing very well with horses.

My father taught us everything. All my family, my nephews also are in endurance. Since I was 12, I knew about the UAE and at that time I learned that there were chances of travelling abroad to ride in endurance events. “When I was 12, I put it in my mind that I wanted to come to the UAE to ride. I knew my future was here and when I finished high school I decided to come here.” That was 14 years ago. “I am 32 now. So I’ve spent nearly half of my life here and I would love to stay in the UAE. When I go back to Argentina, I miss the UAE because I feel I leave a part of me behind when I leave. I have my family there, but my work is here and I am expecting to stay here.” Going by the success she’s had so far in her maiden year as a trainer, the future should definitely be bright. Mendez credits the time spent working with trainers at Al Wathba Stables for her success.

“This is just the first season. I was head lad for two years and then assistant trainer for another two years and then my stable gave me a chance to apply for the licence so I did and I was granted it,”Mendez explains. “When I started training in the beginning I was with Majid Al Jahouri and then Naser Samiri and then last year with Mohammed Ali again with Al Wathba. I have been involved in training Flat racehorses during my time at Al Wathba. “I came to the UAE very young and at that time there weren’t too many women working here in endurance so I was one of the first girls from Argentina to arrive to work in endurance here. “Since I was a rider, I understand horses better. So, even when I’m not on a horse I can recognise things that are important to know and that need work and I can focus on those areas. This helps us fix things.

“I have been training Sheikh Mansoor’s horses and our boss is very supportive. We are lucky because he loves the sport so much and has really good horses so we just work hard and try our best to give him as many wins as possible.” Mendez has 23 horses in her yard and she expects the aforementioned trio to do well alongside Wadeeaa, who has transferred from Mohammed Ali’s yard. Under Ali Wadeeaa won the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R1 at Meydan during last year’s Dubai World Cup Carnival. Mendez also has high hopes from Harrab, second by a short head behind RB Lam Tara in the Group 3 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup at Abu Dhabi on 8 December. “We have a few good horses in the yard. Wadeeaa didn’t do well on her opening run for us this season, but she will run again and we expect her to do well. Harrab is a good horse and came close in the National Day Cup so he is definitely one to watch out for as we find him races,”

Mendez said. “There are some of the newcomers that are doing very well. The horses are healthy and that’s what’s most important to us. Training is not easy and when you work with horses you’re not on your own. You might wish for many things from them, but a lot depends on them and how they wake up on the day of the race. “Our job is to keep trying and it’s natural and I love seeing how the horses improve and get better every day.” Despite her Flat racing training career taking off in style, Mendez believes she has unfinished business with the endurance side of things. “I try and ride qualifier events whenever I can because I like riding and there’s so much to learn from building connections with horses,” she says. “You know one of my dreams is to try and finish the UAE President’s Cup ride, that would be amazing.”