Soufiane Saadi: "Experiences are there to be lived and you need to create your own luck"
Soufiane Saadi has been enjoying a successful winter in Qatar on the horses trained by
Alban de Mieulle. The French jockey is therefore gearing himself for the start of the European season in the best possible fashion. He agreed to answer our questions a few days ahead of the Amir Sword Festival.
The French Purebred Arabian. – Explain the choice of Qatar as your destination?
Soufiane Saadi. – Put simply, it was because my boss, Henri-Alex Pantall, had no need for my services at the Cagnes-sur-Mer meeting. So that was why I toyed with the idea of seeking an opportunity outside France which would give me more rides. Several of my weighing room colleagues talked about their experiences at Doha in glowing terms, and so I said to myself: "Why not me?". I then sought the permission of my boss and he thought it was a very good idea. He then put me in contact with Alban de Mieulle. I left for Qatar in October so as to be ready for the start of new season.
Had you ridden in Qatar previously?
No, as it marked my debut on the local scene. However, I have ridden in Spain and Germany,
plus a little in Britain.
Are the races run differently?
I’ve had some prior experience of foreign racing but races here are run at a good tempo and are limpid affairs. Initially, it can take some time getting used to as races in France are more tactical, but I adapted quickly. It’s a bit like in Britain… there are no falsely run races.
How did the bedding-in process with Alban de Mieulle go at the beginning?
It all went very well as he immediately instilled me with confidence. I have repaid this, I think. It’s fairly easy to work for him as everything is very well organised. He is very well endowed in terms of the number of staff which he employs. Everything ticks over and you adapt very quickly. Furthermore, he trains for my boss, Henri-Alex Pantall, and, of course, that helps.
Outline how you spend your working day?
The first lot pulls out at 5am and we finish up at around 9am. We ride four lots and the more serious work takes place once or twice weekly when the stable has runners. I then return home so as to eat and rest. Racing starts at 4pm and ends between 8pm and 9pm. They race twice a week and namely on Wednesdays (sand) and Thursdays (turf).
You must have ridden many of the yard’s PA horses?
I became acquainted myself with the breed during my apprenticeship. There has been a re-adaptation process, but PA horses are trained on similar lines to English thoroughbreds.
Sometimes, when you ride them, you don’t differentiate between them – particularly when it comes to the good horses. They are moulded in the same ways that English thoroughbreds are, even if they don’t run as fast. You need just a little bit of time to adapt but it’s a quick process. The learning curve is invariably that much easier when you are riding good horses.
However, you have struck a notable partnership with the PA rising star Jabalah...
His morning workouts were fine and he showed a bit of character. I rode him on his debut. Initially, the horse showed no real signs of being a class act, but he has now reached the highest level after progressing from race to race. It was a very nice surprise for me personally, and for his trainer/stable as a whole.
Yet you also won Qatar Derby (Gr1 PA) for 3-year-olds on him…
I was riding in a Gr1 PA race for the very first time and we hit the target! It’s really great and he provided me with my biggest career win to date. The horses are worked each morning even, if at times, we mix things up a little so as to avoid falling into a routine. Even if Ronan Thomas is the stable jockey, I often retain the rides on the horses allocated to me, and Alban de Mieulle has a lot of respect for his jockeys. When things work out, we keep the rides on the horses which we ride. It’s gratifying. For it has enabled me to help Jabalah (Al Mamun Monlau) progress, and to win some good races aboard this horse.
How does acting as the understudy to stable jockey Ronan Thomas actually work out?
I didn’t know what was going to be in store at the outset, and I was of the opinion that Ronan
was going to ride all the quality horses, notwithstanding that he rides the vast majority of the yard’s horses. However, I had no inkling that Alban would have such faith in me, and particularly as Ronan had been so successful last year. The fact that he has confidence in me is perfect in itself.
We’ve talked about Jabalah but you’ve also enjoyed success on Tayf?
I rode him when he was third on his return to Yazeed (Munjiz). I was riding him for the very first time. Tayf (Amer) is an experienced campaigner with a proven track record of winning at Gr1 PA level. I guided him to victory in the H.E. Sheikh Joaan Bin Hamad Al Thani Trophy (Gr3 PA), which is a stepping stone to the big February 22nd race meeting. It was a good opportunity for him. Everything panned out very well and I was happy, as the horse can be temperamental. He’s an 8-year-old and isn’t the easiest of rides. As often happens, when they get older, PA horses can become more intractable.
Yet Olivier Peslier echoed similar views regarding Tayf…
Yes, he knows him well. He has been a firm fixture on the horse. It’s a question of the horse being on a going day. His ParisLongchamp win in The President of the UAE Cup - Coupe d’Europe des Chevaux Arabes (Gr1 PA) last May was impressive. Going to the final 200m, Olivier took a pull and kept his mount covered up behind another runner, before ‘swinging out’ for his challenge in the final 100m, when the combination got on top by a head or a neck, but without resorting to the whip… Seeing him do this, I said to myself : "It would be impossible for me to pull off such a feat !" (laughing). However, I endeavoured to ride the horse in the way in which he likes to be ridden, and by waiting for as long as possible. That is how it unfolded. For, when the horse hits the front, he tends to pull himself up. When I rode him, he showed no signs of stopping, and he even surprised me by winning by over two lengths. However, looking back, you could see that I hadn’t moved going to the final 200m, after delaying my challenge to the last possible moment. He’s a real class act. On a going day, he can give you a thrilling ride, but when he isn’t in the mood…
You’ve enjoyed 14 wins to date in your first Qatari season…
It’s great. I would like to ride as many winners as possible before the season ends. The local scene caters for good horses and top owners which is gratifying. You invariably take a risk when you leave France, as things prove to be tougher on your return. However, experiences are there to be lived and you need to create your own luck. We shall see. If I have the talent, I should make a good fist of it. I’ve got off to a positive start. During the course of last winter, my personal tally of winners numbered just two. Furthermore, my boss has recourse to the services of many Parisian jockeys. In addition, Monsieur Pantall works closely with Alban de Mieulle, and both train for His Highness Sheikh Abdullah Bin Khalifa Al Thani. The collaboration between the parties is a good one. I would only have stayed in France had my ‘boss’ denied me permission to leave. However, he was delighted for me. I believe that you shouldn’t hesitate to grasp the nettle of opportunity when it could prove beneficial, as is my case.
And it will perhaps provide more opportunities for you when you return to France?
Precisely! As ‘the boss’ trains Qatari-owned horses, it could help me when I return to France, as these stables could snap up my services again should I perform well on the local stage. I believe that this can only be a plus for me personally.
From a personal standpoint, how do you feel in your new environment?
It’s a little different but the Qatari culture has a lot going for it and the climate is very pleasant. Doha is an impressive place – complete with its many buildings. I’ve never seen such a concentration of wealth. I have a Qatari friend, the local jockey Faleh Bughenaim. He has ensured that I’ve been able to discover so many different things. My partner is also with me and so I’m not alone. Even if Qatar is a small country in terms of size, there is plenty to see. When things are going well for you in the racing sense, you have the opportunity of being able to discover many things, such as new places with the locals, and with appreciative owners which are intent on rewarding you. The way of life here is really nice and I like it. I’m not too out of my comfort zone, being of Moroccan and Algerian descent. I was aware of the implications which lay in store for my personal life. If I hadn’t proved successful, and my race riding opportunities had been limited, time would have dragged on for me personally, and particularly over the six months’ duration. Spending half a year in a country which you barely know, and without your family, even if my wife is with me, was never going to be easy. It marks the first time that I’ve been away for so long abroad, and the intention is to make the most of it.
Precisely, and are you planning on seeing out the remainder of the Qatari season?
As things stand, the plan is to remain until the Amir Sword (Gr1 PA) race meeting. However, after my boss has run French King (French Fifteen) in the Amir Trophy (Gr1), we will get our heads around the table and discuss matters with Alban. As things are going well, I think that my boss will tell me to see out the remainder of the Qatari season, which ends on April 23rd. We shall discuss the matter and will see. However, it would suit me fine.
Whatever the outcome, it has made for a great experience and there are no regrets. Looking ahead to big meeting at the end of February, I’ve no inkling of what I will ride. However, up to now, I’ve made my mark on the big occasions. Everyone here is talking to me about the February 22nd meeting. I know what it means to them, as they are the biggest races of the season, and everyone’s eyes light up when we broach the subject. It’s really going to provide for a great experience. I’ve already seen the replays of last year’s meeting. I’ve replayed every single race and know what to expect. You need good horses, the races also need to be run to suit, and the devil really is in the very small details, which ensures that it all works out. We are going to take the necessary steps which ensure that these small details are in place at the right time, and which will entail that we are able to give of our maximum as usual. The stage is set for us to do well, and Tayf (Amer), coming off a good win, is a case in point. I hope that I’m well placed in that sense.
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