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Hanagan eager to begin as Sheikh Hamdan's first jockey

Paul Hanagan touched down in the UAE very early Tuesday morning ahead of his first ride of the season for new boss Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum on Friday.

The double British Champion jockey has a number of live chances among his first five rides.

"I had the chance to look at the form and two stand out," said the 32-year-old rider, who as Sheikh Hamdan's first jockey has the pick of the owner's powerful string. "I'm looking forward to riding Funon in the 1ST."

Funon, who claimed two handicaps while trained in France by Freddie Head, won going 1,800 meters in his UAE debut at Jebel Ali on November 30 under Sheikh Hamdan's second jockey, Dane O'Neill.

"He will have a good chance I reckon, he won last time out and I think he'll be right there," said Hanagan, who also rides the fancied Haatheq in the 3RD race.

"I'm looking forward to him," he added about Haatheq. "He was third behind (Grade 1-placed) Barbecue Eddie (Stormy Atlantic) the last two times and that form has worked out well so I'm hopeful there too."

Hanagan may be embarking on his first UAE season as Sheikh Hamdan's first jockey, but this is not his first time in Dubai.

"I came over in 2000-01 just for a few months and then in 2003-04 I was with Paddy Rudkin," he explained. "I know Dubai as I've been in and out over the last few seasons, but it's changed a lot since 2003, which is the last time I spent any length of time here."

Hanagan accepted the Sheikh Hamdan position after former incumbent, Richard Hills, hung up his boots following Dubai World Cup day last year. He comes to the UAE off the back of a highly-successful 17-year association with English trainer Richard Fahey.

"It was hard to leave Richard but to be honest I felt like I needed a change," Hanagan admitted. "I think that after what I went through with the two jockeys' championships, I was just pretty exhausted. I was covering 90,000 miles, going between racecourses but with this new job my priorities have changed."

With the pick of Sheikh Hamdan's classy runners at his disposal, Hanagan is now less likely to have the numbers of rides that won him his two British championships, but more likely to have the quality that could see him add to his two Group 1 victories to date.

"Now I'm number one jockey to Sheikh Hamdan and he comes first before anybody and it would be very hard to go for the championship now," he remarked.

Hanagan rode his first pattern race winner for Sheikh Hamdan in July when steering Alhebayeb to victory in the Group 2 July Stakes at Newmarket.

"I think it was the name 'Sheikh Hamdan' that really swung me," Hanagan said. "It's not the kind of chance you turn down, to be part of that history. You look at Sheikh Hamdan and his horses and the races he has won and the trainers who work for him and I knew that this was my chance to take it to the next level."

Yet Hanagan has not deserted Fahey and was able to squeeze some rides in for the north England-based trainer during the summer.

"I owe Richard so much," said Hanagan, who holds the distinction of being only the third northern-based rider to pick up the jockeys' championship in more than a century as the distance of the northern yards from Britain's racing centers in the south has been a hindrance to jockeys based far from Newmarket. "I'd been with him so long and without him I wouldn't be where I am today."

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