Julien Augé and Al Mourtajez (Dahess) placed third in the Emir’s Sword (Gr. I PA), Saturday 25th February in Doha. Twenty-four hours before riding him, the jockey told us how such a horse changed his life.

My own Dalakhani

“Being associated to a horse like Al Mourtajez is a huge opportunity. It is nearly unimaginable. He is my own Zarkava and Dalakhani. I have never had a contract with a top owner, so the possibility to ride such a horse was quite small. Yes it has been life-changing to me. And even more since Thomas Fourcy is a longtime friend, with whom I was at school at the Moulin à Vent. It is a beautiful story and thanks to Thomas, I have what we can call a moral contract with Al Shaqab. Nothing is written, but I am the first one for the Arabians he has in training and I am always very flattered to read interviews of Harry Herbert in which he associates me with the team. I also think that Al Mourtajez is a wonderful flagbearer for this breed of horses. A true star.”

The double acceleration of champions

“I don’t feel pressure before the race, because they are more than anything else horse races. We know we have the best, and if I don’t make a mistake, he should not be disappointing. Obviously we keep a bitter taste of the Emir’s Sword last year, we knew it was a strategic race, with a scenario we did not expect at all. But the Abu Dhabi race, his counter-performance is due to several reasons.

It was a long trip, a month after the Arc and the horse suffered from the quarantine conditions… that were very basic. And then it was over 1,600 metres and it is not his sport. Each time he was beaten, he had real excuses even though I know in France it is something difficult to hear! But Al Mourtajez is a special horse. He is capable of having a double acceleration that only champions have, speaking about thoroughbreds and Purebred Arabians. He is so above everyone else that he forgives mistakes. When I make some, he wins by five lengths instead of twenty…”

A little help that changes your life

“When you ride a good Purebred Arabian, you don’t see the difference with a thoroughbred. They might be a bit more delicate, but Thomas had briefed me well and I adapted myself quite quickly, I think, otherwise he would not have kept me! Actually, our collaboration started in quite a special way. Thomas who just started training, was looking for a jockey. Jean-Bernard Eyquem and François-Xavier Bertras already had clients among the Purebred Arabians, and I was practically the only one in the changing rooms to never ride Arabian horses. Thomas being a friend, at first I rode to make him happy in a way. The first Arabian I rode for him was Alizé, the year he started off. I tried giving the best of myself so he could succeed and without any pretentions, thanks to his talent and the trust we have in each other, we had two fantastic years, especially for someone who had only started training. In two years, Thomas must have won five or six Group Is. We were unstoppable! Al Mourtajez, he started him because he was very complicated and he was afraid it would not go well. I rode another one of his horses in the race. I won and he finished second. As he saw the horse was manageable in the race, he gave him to me, and since I never stopped riding him. So what I mean is that the little help I gave a friend kind of changed my life…”

The South-West, the right choice at the right moment

“It is sure that if I had not based myself in the South-West, six years ago, I would have never met Al Mourtajez. I must have a lucky star that looks upon me. Even though I come from this region, from Toulouse to be more precise, I did my apprenticeship in Chantilly, and to me, to be a jockey, you had to be in Paris. Even though I won a lot of Quintés, I did not have clients to ride better than that. And I have to say, I did mistakes also. I won too much money, too young and I was not capable of managing it. My great friend is Miguel Blancpain and when he quit his jockey career and went to Paris, I lost my marks and was not mature enough. I started going out. Maybe too much and I was less serious at work. At work, I paid a high price for it, because I was not one of those jockey stars who'll be easily forgiven. Christophe Ferland, who only had ten horses in training at the time, offered me to come and work with him. I accepted.”

Very exciting to work in stables like Christophe Ferland’s

“With Christophe, we had ups and downs, obviously like in all relationships, but I think he is happy with my work and his clients as well. Now, he has big owners and jockeys that go with it and he always left me in the good races on horses who did not have first jockeys. Cavale Dorée for example… And I am happy that he has so many horses now. It is an ambitious stable, challenges to achieve and it is very exciting to work in these conditions. We know that every year a reward will wait for you at the end of the track.”

Pleasing others…

“In general, I found out I was better when I wanted to please others. So it is true, I have the chance to work with longtime friends, like Thomas or Christophe or with people that became friends. I think of Alain Chopard, Gérard Laboureau… It must be part of my personality…”

A family work

“When I arrived in the South-West, jockeys did not have any agents. So I followed the rules. But I had a problem with my organization: sometimes I said yes to ride and I forgot. I am lucky that my wife, Madeleine, did communication studies and likes this relational aspect. For the past three years she has taken care of my rides, but with an important rule: not looking for anybody. But she organizes everything for me. It reassures trainers with whom I work and me too!”

No back down!

“In the South-West and more especially in the Arcachon bay area, we have quite a unique everyday comfort, and I would never leave it! I am thirty-four years old and I think I will ride another ten years. So for the rest of my life I still have time to think about it. Even though I love working the horses in the morning, I don’t think I would go for a training license, because I would have a hard time with human relations.”