Tadhg O’Shea: a personal insight into the top jockey in the United Arab Emirates
The 2018-2019 UAE season was a successful one for Tadhg O’Shea. As always, he aims to stay in shape and keep riding winners!
Sheikh Hamdan and the PA breed. Tadhg O’Shea hails from Dromahane in County Cork, Ireland. It was a careers’ adviser which suggested that he should pursue a racing career in County Kildare. After graduating in 1998, he teamed up with Michael Halford and was crowned champion Irish apprentice. At the time, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum rewarded the winner of this accolade with a four months, all expenses paid trip, to Dubai. The jockey said: "I rode for four different trainers in as many months and namely: Erwan Charpy, Paddy Rudkin, Kiaran McLaughlin and John Sadler. I was 19 at the time and, shadowing these professionals was a very rewarding experience. Winning the apprentices’ title for a second time was the icing on the cake as it entailed me making a second trip to the UAE. It really cemented my relationship with Dubai." Before this experience, Tadhg O’Shea had never ridden PA horses. And it was aboard a PA horse, Danidor (Nuits St Georges), which provided him with his first UAE winner in December 2001. He recalled: "I had barely been in the UAE for two weeks but Erwan gave me my opportunity on Danidor. He didn’t know me and this win enabled me to get established. Erwan had a lot of PA horses in training and it’s in this context that I took a shine to them." Tadhg O’Shea opines that Erwan Charpy has had a big influence on him. He went on to become the stable jockey for five years.
In 2008, after opening his account in the Kahayla Classic aboard Mizzna (Akbar), Angus Gold, the racing manager of Sheikh Hamdan, offered him the position as understudy to the stable’s retained rider. Regarding his four years in that role, the jockey added: "Being given the chance to work for one of the world’s most knowledgeable and committed owners, at the age of 27, was to prove a pleasant surprise." He was also signed up as first jockey to Ali Rashid Al Rayhi. However, it’s in 2013 that the circumstances of his current situation unfolded, adding: « Ernst Oertel called me out of the blue to book me for the ride on Al Asayl. We had enjoyed three good seasons together before the trainer and owner went their separate ways. So I hooked up with Éric Lemartinel [editor's note: he trained Mizzna for Sheikh Mansoor] for a further two seasons. It was then that Khalid [Khalifa Al Nabooda] contacted me and offered me the position as his retained rider. It was a tough call but Khalid is a passionate man and I get on so well with Ernst."
An unforgettable season. This duo hit the ground running from the outset. In the first season, the trio all topped their respective divisions. It was to be Tadhg O’Shea’s seventh jockeys’ championship, Al Nabooda’s [owners] second and a third for the trainer. It was to prove an
unforgettable season for the jockey, as he set a new record for the number of winners ridden in the UAE after bypassing the previous mark of Richard Hills (504 winners). He also recorded his first Gr1 PA success thanks to the win on AF Maher (AF Al Buraq) in Round 3 of the Al Maktoum Challenge. It was the prelude to success in the most prestigious local prize for the breed, the Kahayla Classic. Following a battle with his friend, Richard Mullen, he also collected on another front, and namely his seventh UAE jockeys’ title, which enabled him to better the previous record of Ted Durcan. On this front he added: "This championship was proved hard fought from the beginning, and the outcome could well have been different. Looking ahead, things aren’t about to get any easier as there are a lot of new jockeys in the UAE this season. I try to stay in one piece and maintain my form so as to be competitive each year. The entails a lot of work and particularly so, by implication, behind the scenes."
Tadhg O’Shea rises each morning at 4.30am to ride work for either Ernst Oertel or Nicholas Bachalard at Jebel Ali, when he teams up with the horses of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The jockey explained: "His string has taken time to reach concert pitch, but we have several interesting prospects in the pipeline. Sheikh Ahmed is very much focused on English thoroughbreds whereas Khalid is very much PA orientated. Touch wood, for it seems to work well. I ride for Ernst Oertel several times a week when he asks me to. The horses work at their home base but, sometimes, we put them through their paces at Jebel Ali. The new training tracks have ride very well and the structure is very nice. We have the choice of either working the horses at the track or using the uphill gallop. Ernst likes making use of the ‘incline’ so as to enhance the condition of his horses."
His best horses. Looking back on his career as a whole Tadhg O’Shea commented: "I’ve ridden many quality PA horses. The winners of the Kahayla Classic, Mizzna and AF Maher, of course occupy a special place. However, the others count too. In the early days of our partnership, Khalid had a filly, AF Alghabra (Amer), in training with Gill Duffield. Progressing with her racing, she recorded seven wins on the bounce. Together, we landed the Mazrat Al Ruwayah (Gr2 PA) when we finished in front of two Gr1 PA winners such as Kandar du Falgas (Kesberoy) and Neishan (Akbar)." Tadhg O’Shea admits that to win the Dubai World Cup would be a dream. However, he can look back with a surge of pride at a Royal Ascot success on Sheikh Hamdan’s Ouqba (Red Ransom) in the Jersey Stakes.
Spending the summer in Europe. During the summer period, he returns to his home in Ireland together with his wife Debbie and his sons Daragh and Aaron. Tadhg O’Shea said: "I love returning to Ireland and have considered Dubai as a second home for a while now. However, at present, it’s really my first home. It’s a lovely country and is both safe, very clean and a good place to bring up a family. I would like to ride full time in Great Britain again during the summer. However, I’m under no illusions that it’s simply a question of getting off the plane and picking up rides. To keep myself in condition, I ride the PA horses of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan and those Athbah Stud horses trained by Phil Collington, and also the English thoroughbreds of Jimmy Long and Thistle Bloodstock. My association with Sheikh Hamdan has played a pivotal role in my career and in both breeds. I very much relish the opportunity of riding for him when the opportunity arises. Nevertheless, the opportunity of being able to recharge one’s batteries is very much welcome. I’ve ridden a few times in France, having partnered Sir Bani Yas (Amer) and Abhar (Amer) in the Qatar Arabian World Cup."
The current season. The jockey said of the current season: "Khalid has several quality and up-and-coming prospects. AF Yeheeb (AF Alsalaam) impressed me when winning a maiden at Sharjah in November. He is very lightly raced. AF Maher is being aimed at the Maktoum Challenge. Khalid and Ernst have taken the decision to race him exclusively on dirt this season. » Tadhg O’Shea currently heads the UAE jockeys’ championship whereas Al Nabooda heads the owners’ list. This partnership continues to get stronger with time and he concluded: "Khalid is a great owner to work for. He is a very straight forward in outlook.
He takes the lead and quickly moves on if the prize of victory isn’t achieved. This is very good for everyone. He has a lot of good horses. The most difficult thing is to choose the right one."
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