As a third UAE trainer’s championship title beckons, Ernst Oertel has said it will be the sweetest of his career given the adversity he has had to overcome.
Oertel suffered a life-changing ordeal when he broke his fibula and tibia in a riding accident during a training session in Abu Dhabi. He had a titanium steel plate inserted in his tibia with nine screws and carried on with usual work at the stables.
The South African was attending the World Arabian Horseracing Conference in London when his infected leg started bleeding and had to undergo an emergency operation in May 2014, which meant amputating his left leg from the knee.
More trials and tribulations followed when Oertel lost his job at the Al Asayl Stables, owned by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President of the UAE.
It was a massive setback for the trainer who won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014 after taking charge of the Al Asayl Stables in the middle of the 2011/12 season.
Five years on, Oertel is back on top of the trainer’s chart with 46 winners, equalling his best from 2014. He has 10 winners more than his nearest challenger, Satish Seemar, with six meetings left, including the Dubai World Cup on March 30.
Oertel’s achievements this season are even more commendable as he had to start from scratch as a public trainer with only the Purebred Arabians bred locally by Khalid Khalifa Al Naboodah.
“It probably is sweeter now because you know you lost, and coming back was hard,” Oertel said after notching his 46th winner at Jebel Ali’s final meeting on Friday.
Oertel’s association with Al Naboodah goes back 30 years when he trained some of the Emirati businessman’s horses in the United Kingdom.
“When I lost the job for His Highness I sent to him and explained the situation,” Oertel said. “He was happy to take a chance on me. I saw the brilliant operation he had but he wasn’t getting the results he deserved. I told him that I can turn it around and now we have the results.
“Khalid had horses with a lot of trainers in the UAE but he gave the majority of them to me. We had to find a good team and build it up. Now we got the tweaks working. We give them the right feeds and have the right people. Now everything is going good.”
Oertel saddled 10 winners in his first season as a public trainer, followed by 13, 30 and 35 before this season.
“I’m happy that I helped Khalid to see his breeding was working,” the South African said. “He’s a top breeder and has horses racing at the highest levels, and that’s what’s is all about. What Khalid wants to prove is that the UAE can produce good horses. He just needed a little bit of help.”
The Oertel-Al Naboodah partnership has two horses - AF Al Sajanjle and AF Maher - in the Dubai Kahayla Classic, the opening race and the Arabian showpiece on Dubai World Cup night.
“We nurture these horses nicely and slowly, because we believe the local breeds take a little bit longer to reach their peak,” Oertel said. “Every year they have improved and now they (AF Al Sajanjle and AF Maher) are at the top level and we hope to have a good race.
“I suppose the Saudi horse (Tallaab Al Khalediah - last year’s winner) is the one to beat but take him out and it’s quite an open race. It’s a good race and let the best horse win.”
Oertel has an ambitious plan to run some of the Al Naboodah horses in Europe this summer and to include thoroughbreds in his stables at Al Awir in Dubai.
“That’s one of our goals, to take some of the horses to Europe and compete there, and then come back and compete here,” he said. “The plan is also to have around 20 thoroughbreds in the stable.”
A former military man in the South African Army, Oertel’s passion for horses took him to the United Kingdom in 1986. He worked for Lester Piggott, the legendary jockey, when he retired and trained horses.
Oertel also had spells with Paul Kellaway and the trainer’s daughter Sarah, who was the UK’s champion trainer for Arabians for 10 years. He returned to South Africa in 2007 before arriving in Abu Dhabi in 2011.