Raising the bar further appears the clarion call of ‘Team AF’ following their extraordinary triumphs in each of the championships during the 2018/19 campaign, which ended at Meydan a fortnight ago. Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, Ernst Oertel and Tadhg O’Shea were formally handed the owners’, trainers’ and jockeys’ trophies respectively on the last day of racing at Dubai’s marquee racecourse on 12 April and while Al Nabooda wasn’t present to collect his gong, South African Oertel and Irishman O’Shea were both on the same wavelength when declaring it was time to aim for ‘bigger and better’. Oertel, who collected his third trainers’ title following up on his successes in the 2012/13 and 2013/14 campaigns, is keen to go racing with Al Nabooda’s AF brand in Europe.
But that’s not the only thing on his Protean mind. Oertel wants to get back to training Thoroughbreds as well. He is no stranger to the breed, despite him coming to be known as a major Purebred Arabian handler and has tasted success in his native South Africa and the UK as well as here in the UAE in the past. “We are looking to build up on some Thoroughbreds and that’s my main aim. I’ve won quite a few Thoroughbred races here,” Oertel told Al Adiyat. “In the past, I had some very good Thoroughbreds like Capital Attraction, Touch Gold and Ganas. I’ve had plenty of winners with them so it’s just a matter of getting the horses here. “I’ve never had a prominent amount in the UAE.
But I’ve trained Thoroughbreds in South Africa, as well as the UK and have won there too. It’s not like it’s rocket science, if they’re good they’ll win.” A former paratrooper with the South African army, Oertel, who has 234 UAE winners so far, including the 50 from the recently concluded season, said he would also be focusing on improving the quality of the horses. “We are going to work on the,” he added. “We want to cut down on the lower grade horses and improve the quality. We have a lot of horses and we would just like to improve the quality.” Oertel said the cohesion within Team AF was exemplary, which kept his levels of confidence up throughout. “Everything went according to plan and I was always pretty confident at all times,” he said.
“I love Tadhg and I’ve had him work for me before and we’ve won championships before with him and when Khalid managed to secure his services, I was over the moon. Khalid just told me ‘I’ve managed to get Tadhg on board’ so it was just great news for me. “Khalid has done a brilliant job with the horses and we’ve managed to take things forward each year. I think just the passion he puts into it is outstanding and without his passion I would have nothing here so it’s all down to him.” Oertel’s association with Al Nabooda goes back a long way to when he trained horses for the Emirati businessman in the UK. In the UAE the pair joined forces ahead of the 2015/16 season, with Oertel having to literally start from scratch following a series of rough years.
“When we started we had only 13 winners and it seemed a bit slow, but we’ve built up since then. ”I’ve had to start with new grooms, new horses, everything. So it’s great what we’ve done and we are happy it has gelled and stuff. Things are going good now and we have a good team in place, so it’s about improving all of the time now.” O’Shea said he would look to do even better in 2019/20, while aiming to make it three titles in a row. “I’ve been very fortunate to be riding for the trainers and owners I have ridden for over the years and it has been very good so far,” O’Shea said. “It was a great season and one in which I not only set a new record and became the winningmost rider in the UAE after taking over from Richard Hills, but I also collected a seventh jockeys’ championship to go level with Ted Durcan.
“Winning another Kahayla Classic was special. The first one with Mizzna was in 2008, and to do it now with AF Maher in the colours of Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda is simply great. I was glad to be able to achieve whatever I did during this season and the goal for next year will obviously be to improve on everything. “The one thing you never do is rest on your laurels because there’s always someone going to be chasing records and the goal will, as always, be to stay in one piece and keep kicking towards more success.” While AF Maher’s win in the Kahayla Classic marked Al Nabooda’s first success in the race as owner, it was his second as breeder. AF Mathmoon, bred by him, had first put his name in the mix when winning the 2016 renewal of the race in the colours of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Those wins have bred confidence in Al Nabooda, who is now keen on flying his runners overseas to compete in Purebred Arabian events around the world. Al Nabooda added: “I think I’ve proven that horses bred in the UAE can win races at all levels from maidens to Group Ones. “It’s very difficult and a big challenge to breed here in the UAE because of the weather, the climate, everything actually not being conducive to breeding, but I would like to take this challenge to the world that we can breed horses here that can compete in strong races around the world.”