Saudi Pro League clubs must snap up best Asian talent
It is a long way from Najran to California, but that is the route taken by Abdul Alsagoor to become the first jockey from Saudi Arabia to race horses in the US.
The 23-year-old has done more than just race, though, becoming the first person from the Kingdom to win at the famous Santa Anita Park in Los Angeles.
“I have won like 45 (races) so far in this year,” Alsagoor said, “and I’m hoping to continue the successes, the support from the trainer and trying to find the right horses to take me to the winner’s circle.”
John Sadler, a trainer at Santa Anita, said: “He’s been working horses for us and he’s been riding. He’s progressing really well as a jockey. As far as working the horses out in the morning, he’s outstanding.”
Alsagoor was born and raised in Najran, where his father was a racing trainer. From a young age, he knew what he wanted to be.
“My dad trained horses, and from the beginning, I wanted to be a jockey,” he said.
“It was (when I was) 17 years old, I said to my dad, ‘I want to ride horses,’ and my dad would tell me, ‘you’re going to be a little tall’ and I said, ‘no, nothing’s going to affect me.’ (It’s) something I really love, and want to do,” he added.
From that early age, his father put him up against far more experienced jockeys.
“Some of the older riders would say, ‘why are you putting this kid with us? You don’t care about him?’ And my dad would say, ‘just ride with him, don’t worry about him, worry about yourself.’”
In 2019, Alsagoor and his family moved to the US, where, at 19, he began training to be a commercial pilot. When he found out that his flight school, Air Academy, was in the same town as Santa Anita Park, nothing could keep him away from racing.
Having overcome obstacles and rejections, he was given an opportunity to be a workout rider for acclaimed trainer Bob Baffert, keeping the horses warmed up and in shape. From there he was able to compete as a jockey.
“I worked for Bob Baffert for one year,” he said. “That opened my mind a lot about racing, about really good horses and the quality of the horses here in Santa Anita and (the) US — it’s different to what we have back in Saudi.
“I started to work on myself, to develop, to be a jockey. Bob helped me a lot — a lot of trainers supported me, gave me horses.
“It was really difficult to start in the US because I came from an unknown world. There had never been any jockey from Saudi that came to the States and started riding here.”
Despite questions over wether he could really perform at a high level in the US, he persevered.
“It was difficult, but the love of the horses made me do it,” said Alsagoor.
Baffert’s faith kept the youngster going when the going got tough.
“He gave me a lot of confidence,” said Alsagoor. “When I said, ‘I’m going quit,’ he’d say, ‘no, I need you — I need you stay riding for me because you’re a good rider, you listen, you learn quick,’ and he was saying, ‘you catch up to everything quickly, the way you come (and) after six months, you became a different rider. I like the way you ride.’ It gave me a lot of confidence. He put me on a $1 million horse, a $2 million horse. He put me on a lot of quality horses, and that made me really confident in myself.”
The COVID-19 pandemic halted Alsagoor’s progress, as he had to stop all racing activities for over six months.
Since then, however, success has come regularly, and though he cherishes all his wins, one race sticks out in his memory above others.
“My first turf winner,” Alsagoor said. “It was a race here in Santa Anita. And it was inside the rail, it was a smart ride, and that gave me more confidence. When you start to ride with good riders, you have to learn quick. Because there were a lot of talented riders, when you make a mistake, you can see it easily.”
Alsagoor is now at home on the big rides and races.
“There are some horses from trainer Peter Miller, he’s been one of my supporters, he’s put me on a lot horses,” he said. “There is one really good horse for me. He’s going to run on the turf at the Listed Stakes. And hopefully, we get the winner. It’s a tough race, but at least I’m with good riders, at good races, and that means a lot to me.”
Alsagoor says it is an honor to represent the Kingdom, but also highlights the high caliber of riders in the Gulf region.
“I’m so proud,” he said, “but there are a lot of talented riders in Saudi and the UAE. Back home, we have a lot of talented riders everywhere, but they don’t have the chance to come to the US. I know it’s hard, but I am trying to prove they can do it.
“I’m trying to prove there are really good riders, I’m trying to push myself. I can’t represent anyone (else), I’m trying to represent myself. They can see if I can, they can do it.”
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