Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: For Alsagoor, A Long Road To A Dream Come True - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: For Alsagoor, A Long Road To A Dream Come True

Abdullah Alsagoor at Santa Anita

Abdullah Alsagoor arrived in California from his Saudi Arabia homeland approximately a year and a half ago. He was 18 years old, a teenager bold enough to dream big but with seemingly no idea how to make those dreams come true.

“I wanted to see another world,” he said of the decision to leave behind his parents, Sarah and Mahdi, and a close-knit family that included five sisters and five brothers.

His parents had strongly endorsed the move and were in position to offer him some financial support. He recalled Sarah telling him, “Go do your goals.” Alsagoor had been taught to ride at a young age by Mahdi, a trainer in Saudi Arabia. One of his goals was to develop his skills until he was good enough to be hired as an exercise rider by Bob Baffert, a trainer of world renown. He intended to use that work to help pay for his studies in pursuit of his ultimate goal – to become a commercial pilot.

Alsagoor arrived at Los Alamitos Race Course with photos intended to display his riding ability to trainers who might need extra help. One problem: He was continually barred from entering.

“I talk to security, 'Please, let me in so I can talk to trainers and see how I can get my license,' “ he recalled.

He struggled to express himself during his first six months in the United States. He had neither family nor friends; no one willing to intercede in his behalf. He recalled one day when he successfully entered Los Alamitos and made his way to the jocks' room. He tried to explain his desire to gallop horses for different trainers in the morning. He said someone asked to check his weight. He stepped onto the scale wearing his riding gear and a jacket.

When the scale read 130 pounds, he said he was subjected to ridicule.

“They make joke,” he recalled. “How are you going to be a jockey?”

When he finally gained access to the backside, that led to more disappointment. He said one trainer asked him to stop by the following week, promising to give him an opportunity then. When he came the next week, he was told he would need to wait another week. That went on for weeks. Once he obtained his license, he said his limited opportunities came on mercurial horses that were a danger to themselves and anyone who attempted to work with them.

Alsagoor was a beaten young man. The “other world” he had so eagerly wanted to explore seemingly wanted nothing to do with him. He felt very much like a stranger in a strange land. He called his mother to arrange to return home.

“I almost cried,” he said. “I said, 'I can't stay here. I can't stay in the United States anymore. I want to come back. I can't talk to anyone. I don't have any friends. I can't order for me food when I go to a restaurant. I can't stay here anymore.'”

Sarah pleaded with him to give it more time. He said she told him, “Keep your ambition. Keep your hard work. Be nice to everyone.”

Abdullah Alsagoor works a horse at Santa Anita

Someone suggested to Alsagoor that he might find more work at Santa Anita. He began getting on a few horses there for different trainers and displayed some ability. Humberto Gomez, a native of Mexico City who is entrusted with Baffert's finest stock, was among those who took notice of the newcomer.

Shortly after that, Jimmy Barnes, Baffert's top assistant, asked Gomez if he knew of any freelance help that might be available.

“It's not easy to make a recommendation or bring somebody to Baffert's barn,” Gomez said, referring to the lofty expectations that surround the operation. “I got a feeling with this guy. I don't know what it was.

“It was his body language, his presence, the way he presented himself. He was a genuine person. The way he presented himself, I said, 'Let me see if I can help him.' Bob likes people who want to improve, who've got ambition.”

Introductions were made and Alsagoor soon proved to be a good student, overcoming early nervousness and mistakes to become a fixture at the barn each morning over the last five months or so. Gomez also assisted Alsagoor in securing a better living arrangement, arranging for him to room with one of his friends. Alsagoor is making steady progress toward his pilot's license as a student at Universal Air Academy.

Alsagoor refers to Gomez as “my brother.” When Baffert assigned Gomez to journey to Saudi Arabia to work with Charlatan in advance of the Saudi Cup, Alsagoor's family welcomed Gomez upon his arrival as if he was one of their own, asking what they could do to make him more comfortable during his stay.

Alsagoor feels as though his new life gets better every day now.

“Before I moved here, my dream was to gallop for Bob, and it's come true,” he said. “Thank God for that. You can't imagine what he's done for me.”

Alsagoor knows he is better for his struggles, as severe as they were.

“It opened my mind to everything and made me strong,” he said.

He is finally happy that he came. And even happier that he stayed.

Tom Pedulla wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America's Best Racing and other publications.

If you wish to suggest a backstretch worker as a potential subject for In Their Care, please send an email to [email protected] that includes the person's name and contact information in addition to a brief description of the employee's background.

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