By anyone's standards, last season was a remarkable one on the racetrack for UAE trainer Ernst Oertel.
Oertel, 52, had to start from scratch as a public trainer five years ago with only the Purebred Arabians of Emirati owner-breeder Khalid Khalifa Al Naboodah – but that partnership has gone from strength to strength.
The South African’s Desert 1 Stables even managed to complete a clean sweep of UAE titles last season. Oertel had the most wins to secure the trainer’s title, while Al Naboodah captured his second UAE champion owner’s trophy and Tadhg O’Shea won a record equalling seventh UAE jockey’s title.
But bearing in mind the trials and tribulations that Oertel has been forced to endure in his life and horse-racing career, that success is all the more impressive.
In 2014, he picked up an infection in the left leg he fractured after falling from a horse that resulted in an amputation above his knee.
He lost his job at President Sheikh Khalifa’s Al Asayl Stables the same year, before going on to establish his own private stable. Last season’s UAE trainer’s title was his third.
However, Oertel suffered another setback when his amputated leg became infected again, resulting in him having to undergo more surgery in Germany last April. He needs to take antibiotics to this day.
And yet, despite his ordeal, Oertel refuses to cease preparations for the 80-plus horses under his care for the new season that kicks off with a thoroughbred card at Meydan on Thursday.
Oertel trains Purebred Arabians predominantly and his first batch of runners will be in action in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. The racecard consist of five races for the breed and one for the thoroughbreds.
"Last season was a dream and I don't see why we can't replicate that again because we have the same horses and a lot of babies Khalid has bred," Oertel told The National.
“Khalid has bred some really good Arabians over the years and we have around 30 babies and maidens that we didn’t run last season, plus those horses that have already done well.”
Oertel racked up 50 winners and prize money of over Dh5.7million, and topped it off last season by saddling AF Maher for his first Dubai Kahayla Classic, the Group 1 race widely regarded as the Dubai World Cup for the Arabians.
“Last season was not only great,” Oertel, who became the first Abu Dhabi-based trainer to win the trainer’s title, said.
“I enjoyed the first trainer’s title in my first full season in the UAE in 2012/2013 and the last one was even sweeter after I lost everything, and to come back.
“Winning the Kahayla was another highpoint. For me, that’s the race to win because it’s truly international and run on the biggest night for racing around the world.
“When Khalid’s homebred AF Mathmoon won the Kahayla in the silks of Sheikh Hamdan [bin Rashid, Minister of Finance and Industry], everyone was saying they were lucky to win.
“When AF Maher won it again it shows it wasn’t just lucky but Khalid had bred another champion Arabian. That win was very emotional for both Khalid and me.”
Oertel warns that success in horse racing is not guaranteed as they embark on another season.
“You can be the king for one season and be nothing in the next,” he said. “Like every season, we start all over again. Of course, we have some good horses but they still need to go out and deliver.”
His Kahayla Classic winner AF Maher remains the stable star. Oertel says defending that title on Dubai World Cup night on March 28 will be the six-year-old grey son of AF Al Buraq’s main objective.
AF Al Sajanjle, AF Al Bairaq and AF Al Aassi are the other stablemates that Oertel believes also have the potential to win the big prizes.
He picked the unraced colts AF Ramz and AF Mass, and the filly AF Wana, as the juveniles to watch from his stables.
“We will keep AF Maher for Meydan because he likes it there on the dirt,” Oertel said while taking a stable tour on his tricycle.
“The Al Maktoum Challenge and the Kahayla will be his main targets along with AF Al Sajanjle. The plans are to campaign AF Al Bairaq and AF Al Aassi in the big races in Abu Dhabi.
“There are lot of babies. I could have more but that doesn’t cater for my program. I got plenty of horses and some good ones as well."
Oertel’s plans to go shopping for some thoroughbreds in the summer had to be shelved as he had to undergo his latest operation.
“Khalid insisted me to look after my health first and save my shopping for horses for another day,” he said with a broad smile. “We still have some good young horses as well as the older ones for the new season.”
Oertel also had plans to campaign some of Al Naboodah’s horses in Europe, but that too had to be put on hold.
“We have been planning this for the last two years but I had to undergo the surgery,” he said. “But the plans are still there to take horses to Europe.”