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Busybody Tadhg looks to scale mountains after climbing Hills

Author: Duane Fonseca


If jockey Tadhg O’Shea were to be told that in his 17th season of riding in the UAE he would be comfortably placed in the Jockeys’ Championship and inching closer to what is a sixth title, he would have laughed at you. But that’s exactly the way things have worked out for the Irishman. And Tadhg has probably stopped pinching himself to wake up from what has been a dream run: a career that has seen him win five of the last eight riders’ championships. “You know it’s just that I’ve been very fortunate since moving here in the 2001 season,” Tadhg says as we met outside the jockeys’ room at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club last Saturday.

He has just returned from riding an Eric Lemartinel-schooled Purebred Arabian to fourth in the opening maiden race and as ever is hurried in his manner. You can’t blame him, he has a busy night ahead. There are six more rides to come and over the course of the evening he has been booked to ride four more Purebred Arabian horses trained by the Frenchman Lemartinel, another by the South African handler Ernst Oertel and a Thoroughbred schooled by the Emirati Ali Rashid Al Rayhi. Busy nights mean he nearly always trots straight back to the weighing room. It’s almost as if the momentum gained aboard his equine companions sets his wheels in a constant state of motion.

While that may not be the case, the 36yo rider does have a rather fascinating story to tell about how his fairytale all came together. “I have to thank HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum because without him none of this would have been possible,” Tadhg says. “He sponsored a four month trip for the Champion Apprentice in Ireland in 2001 which thankfully at the time was me. So I came to work for four of his trainers at the time and he took a keen interest and he told his trainers at the time: John Sadler, Paddy Rudkin, Erwan Charpy and Kiaran McLaughlin to try and help me in whatever way they could. I got a good grounding so all thanks to HH Sheikh Hamdan.

“I was lucky enough to be Champion Apprentice again the next year in Ireland and Sheikh Hamdan had once again sponsored an all expenses paid trip and I took it from there. But I have received a lot of support from trainers over the years. “I have been very fortunate to have ridden for the Al Maktoum family and then have worked for Sheikh Hamdan for four full seasons. “Riding for Ali Rashid Al Rayhi has been great of late and HH Sheikh Khalifa, I owe him a lot for employing me. I’ve probably ridden a whole lot more winners in my red and white polka dots in his famous colours, year in year out for the last six seasons and I can’t thank him enough; long may it continue. This is my 16th full season in Dubai and I’ve been fortunate since moving here in the 2001 season when I was working with Michael Halford.

Michael made me aware that if I was to win the Apprentice Championship in Ireland, there was an all expenses paid trip to Dubai and I won. So that set the ball rolling.” Tadhg didn’t have to wait long to score his first winner and opened his account aboard the Charpy-trained Danidor, who won the Emirates Airline Purebred Arabian Stakes on 21 December 2001. It was one of seven winners he would ride that season. The following year was even better and with 11 wins, Tadhg showed that he was slowly starting to find his feet in the Emirates. His partnership with Charpy started with a severe reprimand, but was just another rung on his upward moving learning curve. Tadhg explains: “It was my second day in Dubai and I was in Green Stables. I was leading Seb Sanders in a bit of work and I went in front and won the gallop by about 20 lengths and thought Erwan would be very happy with me.

“But even to this day, it is the biggest ‘bollocking’ I ever had in racing, but it taught me from then on and I don’t think I’ve won a gallop since. Erwan likes all of his horses to gallop together. I thought he was going to be happy, but he told me to take all the trophies I had won in Ireland and lock them in a cabinet and forget about it. He said if I didn’t do things his way, he would send me back home. “But he was a great boss and he taught me about all the tracks and I had a lot of rides. He was acting as my agent also. So it’s a big thanks to him because he really set me going in Dubai and I rode my first ever winner at Jebel Ali for him.” Tadhg claimed his first carnival winner aboard a Charpy charge as well as riding T-Bird to victory in the South African International Stakes at Nad Al Sheba on 11 February 2005.

“Erwan was instrumental in my career, but I thought it was quite funny the ‘bollocking’ I had that morning, it really brought me back down to earth,” he recalled. Tadhg continued to rake in success as the years rolled by and claimed his first and only Dubai World Cup night success aboard the Lemartinel-handled Mizzna in the 2008 running of the Purebred Arabian Group 1 Dubai Kahayla Classic. Unusually, success evaded Tadhg in Abu Dhabi last week, but the 459th winner he recorded in Al Ain last week moved him a win clear of Willie Supple and into second on the UAE’s winningmost rider charts. Richard Hills sits at the summit with 503 winners overall, but Tadhg is determined to set a new benchmark before finishing off his work in the Emirates.

“When I first came to Dubai in 2001, Willie Supple, Ted Durcan and Richard Hills were the ones I used to look up to and now to reach them and go past them, in terms of winners, has been great,” he said. “We have fantastic memories from then until now. “My first carnival winner at Nad Al Sheba on T-Bird, then consecutive Maktoum Challenges on Le Bernardin (2016 and 2017) and then my only Dubai World Cup night winner with Mizzna was special too in the Kahayla Classic. “Obviously winning five Jockeys’ Championships is high on the list, but I think the Kahayla Classic win with Mizzna would be my best here so far.” With 459 so far, Tadhg is 44 short of Hills’ record 503 winners. However, at the rate at which he is moving toward the 500 mark, Tadhg could get there as early as next season.

“You never know in racing. I’ve been very fortunate but that’s the main milestone now. To reach Richard Hills and pass him, obviously, that would be my top priority because it would be nice to become the winningmost rider in the UAE,” Tadhg says. “The main thing is to finish the season in one piece. After that, obviously the main objective is to ride as many winners as possible and I always look around the middle of January to see how I am in the jockey standings; if I am close to the top or at the top I try and go all out to win the championship. Thankfully, we are in a good position this season to achieve that.” Tadhg is leading the race for the UAE jockeys’ title again this season with 40 wins, eight more than good friend and rival Richard Mullen.

The pair have shared a keen rivalry over the years and were involved in a fierce contest last season too, with Mullen winning by just one, having recorded 52 winners to Tadhg’s 51. The Irishman has paid the price of a complacent approach in the past, having been denied by Ted Durcan in the 2007/08 season. “I was four or five winners in front going into March and I was quietly confident; as it turned out Ted had a fantastic March and I had a slow one and he ended up beating me by one,” said Tadhg, who was crowned champion for the first time in 2009/10, before three consecutive titles in 2011/12, 2012/13 and 2013/14.

His fifth title was gained in the 2015/16 season after being offered the job at Al Rayhi’s Grandstand Stables. Tadhg added: “I have had some battles with Richie over the last couple of years and the jockeys’ championship here is a tough one with a lot of good riders, so you have to be sharp.” He is sharp all right and acknowledges it, saying: “I’ve just turned 36 and I feel like I’m riding better than I ever did so hopefully I’d like to think I have at least another ten good years in Dubai.” Let’s see what the end of the season brings him.

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27 Sep 2018
Issue Number: Issue 648
Seemar can only hope for another upward performance from North America
Dubai playing a key role in British racing, says Jockey Club boss
Busybody Tadhg looks to scale mountains after climbing Hills
Nass’ trial and error style seems to be working wonders for him
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