Author: Duane Fonseca
Moments after winning the Group 2 Bani Yas with ES Ajeeb at Meydan last week, Sam Hitchcott declared the 4yo homebred son of Big Easy as the best Purebred Arabian he has ever ridden. “That is quite some horse,” Hitchcott told Al Adiyat after the race. “He’s definitely the best Arabian I’ve sat on so far with natural speed and if we had some more 6f races to go then that would be ideal for him.” It is quite the statement, particularly since it comes from Hitchcott, who was flung, or rather offloaded, by none other than ES Ajeeb during a Prestige contest in Sharjah last season. Arabians are known for their eccentricity and even by the standards of his breed, it was a strange reaction from ES Ajeeb.
Hitchcott wasn’t hurt in the incident where he was unseated coming into the final straight where ES Ajeeb galloped towards the outside railing before unloading what would have been a rather bemused Hitchcott over the rails. Asked if there is some kind of a love/ hate relationship between him and the Ibrahim Aseel-trained colt, Hitchcott disagrees. He seems to know the reason behind ES Ajeeb’s actions that day. “It’s not a love/hate relationship when I did come off at Sharjah; it was a mixture of a lot of things,” Hitchcott explained. “I think he’d had a long season and he was still a big little baby. I think he still had some teething problems in respect to the fact he was still growing, so he might have been just a little bit body sore in places.
“The fact he’s trained there and spotted the ponies didn’t help the situation as well. But there’s more love than there is hate. That’s for sure. As jockeys, the day you start worrying about getting back on horses is the day you give up.” Despite the mishap, Hitchcott feels the 4yo has the potential to develop into a brilliant sprinter because his ‘build and ability match that of some Thoroughbreds’. ES Ajeeb shed his maiden status on his second career start when winning a 1200m maiden at Sharjah by a whopping 19 lengths, which was missed by an erring cameraman who mistakenly focused on the group that was vying for the placings. “The mishap was only on his fourth run and he was maybe still a big baby. He’s probably as big as a Thoroughbred and he probably has the ability of some Thoroughbreds as well,” said Hitchcott. “He’s just a big, big baby who’s learning.
All he knows is to jump off, go to the front and he’s never really had a horse come to him at the furlong pole and try and get into a battle with him. He’s naturally gifted with speed and you can try and change things to make him go a little further, but you wouldn’t see the best of the horse.” Hitchcott feels ES Ajeeb’s connections, trainer Aseel, owner and breeder Sheikh Abdulla bin Majid Al Qassemi, had the right plans when it came to ushering him back to racing. He said: “I always knew he was a good horse and after we ran him at Sharjah and he did have his mishap, Sheikh Abdulla wanted to give him one more run to get his rating up, so we went to Al Ain and won there enthusiastically because it was just a routine piece of work for him. “He’s very straightforward and he’s a pleasure to ride and hopefully he’ll stay a pleasure to ride.
“You only have to look at him to see that he’s a nice big horse. He stands out in a crowd. He has a lot of natural speed and ability, but unfortunately for him, this year, he doesn’t have the schedule of races that we would like because he is a good horse who is rated at 100+ now so you have to take on the better horses. I’ve said it from day one, he’s a 6f horse and he loves the dirt, but unfortunately as I keep saying, the schedule is just not there for us to keep going for 6f races in his ability and his grade. “It’s going to be a little bit tricky with where we place him, but Ibrahim has done a fantastic job with him and Sheikh Abdulla has been really patient and trustworthy, in my opinion, in Ibrahim’s ability and it’s showing him the results.” Hitchcott has been riding in the UAE since the 2012/13 season and is currently second in line behind Pat Dobbs on Doug Watson’s Red Stables’ jockey roster.
He has ridden 84 UAE winners, including the three gained this season. His biggest winner so far has been his almost five length success with the Watson-trained One Man Band in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile in 2016. “Every year it’s a matter of trying to improve on what we’ve done the year before. I’ve been lucky in the past, I’ve had a Godolphin Mile winner with One Man Band,” said Hitchcott, whose other notable scalps include the 2008 Ascot Stakes at Royal Ascot with Missoula and the 2003 Summer Stakes Showcase Handicap at Glorious Goodwood with Imperial Dancer. “Red Stables is a fantastic place to work; we have a lot of nice horses and great staff. Doug’s a fantastic trainer and we have a great assistant trainer in Noel Connolly and it’s an enjoyable place to be in the mornings.”
Hitchcott says he is every bit the team player and it’s always a matter of moving forward together for him. “In terms of going forward, I’m a complete team player and I am more than happy where I am working at Red Stables,” Hitchcott said. “My thing is if the yard can improve then I can improve. In my opinion there’s no better trainer in the UAE than Doug Watson. He knows his horses, has fantastic owners and has faith in me and Pat. “We know Doug will get them ready and Pat and I have the easy job of pointing them in the right direction. “I’m happy doing what I’m doing right now and hopefully we can just keep improving. It’s a matter of doing your best and riding as many winners as you can and when you come to the last month, you see what you have and if you have a chance on the World Cup card then that’s good.
That is a good attitude to start with.!