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THE MAIN ambition of UAE Champion Jockey Tadhg O’Shea, in his own words, is to finish the season in ‘one piece and stay healthy’ throughout. While that might seem par for the course, the mantra has worked wonderfully well for the incredibly hardworking and diminutive Irishman who has earned the highest stature among riders who have plied their trade on Emirati soil. With eight championships already in the bag and a staggering 556 wins making him the UAE’s winningmost rider, O’Shea could retire a legend right away. However, with the fire burning inside him seemingly as strongly as it did when he set out on this journey, it is hard to see O’Shea lose his competitiveness at any point. Disappointed at having been unable to compete in the 2020 Dubai World Cup programme on account of the season being abandoned due to Covid-19, the 2008 and 2019 Dubai Kahayla Classic winner (Mizzna and AF Maher respectively) is looking forward to the 2020/21 season and possibly to defending his jockeys’ title. With three winners already under the belt, a staggering fourth straight title, which would mean a ninth honour overall, is not a matter of building castles in the air. O’Shea has the drive to turn his dreams into reality. In an interview with Al Adiyat, the hard riding, hardworking Irishman tells us what makes him keep plugging away at it...

Excerpts:

1. How have things progressed this year? Obviously missing Dubai World Cup night might have been a big disappointment?

Obviously missing the Dubai World Cup was a big blow not only to me but to everyone involved because it’s what we strive for and what we get up every morning for the whole season, but obviously it was out of everybody’s control with this horrible pandemic that we were all going through. But hopefully we’ll be up for plenty more Dubai World Cups and we’ll have plenty more rides and more success at what is perhaps the best meeting for me in the world.

2. What are your goals and ambitions for 2020/21 season?

People actually don’t believe me but I actually don’t set myself any goals or targets ahead of the season. I suppose the main goal is to stay in one piece and stay healthy. I think if you set yourself goals and targets you’re putting yourself under extra added pressure so I don’t start out the season with a goal or a target. But I want to do the best I can for all the connections and people I’m riding for.

3. The Covid-19 pandemic has put life into perspective for many… your thoughts on the same?

Covid-19 has put everything into perspective and it just goes to show how quickly someone’s life can be turned upside down. So the most important thing is to stay clear of it and hopefully a vaccine will be available for all very soon and we’ll be able to get over this horrible time.

4. How have you spent the months of the UAE off season. I know you were riding in Europe from time to time. Comment?

Normally, I would ride a lot more throughout the summer months abroad, mostly on Purebred Arabians but obviously because of the pandemic this season I didn’t do that. But, I did get a nice call to ride Hattal in the Group 1 UK Arabian Derby on Doncaster St Leger Day. It was nice to ride him as I rode his mighty mother Mizzna; she was a champion and I was unbeaten on her and it was nice because it was the first time I had ridden her progeny; he’s a tough colt and as I said it was great to get a call up. I went and rode him and he duly obliged.

5. Who are you associated with this season in terms of trainers et al?

This season thankfully again I linked up with Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, the UAE’s Champion Owner and I am in the very fortunate position to have first call on his horses and Ernst Oertel does a tremendous job with them so that’s on the Purebred Arabian front and on the Thoroughbred front I am linked up with Zabeel Stables also. So, I am very fortunate to be linked with two very, very powerful stables and it’s fantastic to be associated with both Ernst and Satish Seemar; two very dominant forces in UAE racing.

6. You’ve won the UAE Champion Jockey title so many times… What drives the man in Tadhg O’Shea?

I’ve been very fortunate to win the jockeys’ championship eight times in the UAE and to have been runner-up a further three times. I’ve ridden for some fantastic people here and Dubai has been a very, very lucky place for me and my family. What drives me, coming into racing, I don’t know as I had not ridden a Thoroughbred until I was 16 years old. I didn’t have a background that was in racing and had to learn everything from scratch. My father worked as a farmer all his life and worked very hard for his seven kids, my four sisters and two brothers. So, I suppose I appreciate things and I was always taught from a young age you get out what you put in so I’m never afraid of hard work and it’s rewarding when you have success. As I said Dubai has been a very, very lucky place and I treasure each and every one of those championships and they are dear to me.

7. Has the season started as expected and who are your main rivals?

Thankfully, I was on the scoreboard in the very first meeting and it’s always nice to have the monkey off your back early on. Obviously, we are in the very early stages of the season and there’s plenty more winners to come. With regards to my rivals, I think Richie Mullen and Antonio Fresu are my main rivals as they can both do 53kg and have powerful stables behind them. So, with regards to the season, I have three winners on the board so far and hopefully there will be more.

8. Does being champion put extra pressure on you to perform and how do you deal with it?

Being champion in any sport you’re obviously always there to be shot at and to be criticised so I suppose everybody out here, deep down, regardless of what they say wants to be Champion Jockey and wants to be the one that rides the most winners. That’s what we are all here for. So, pressure, it doesn’t really affect me and I thrive under pressure and look forward to the big occasions, but then obviously being Champion Jockey means there are plenty of riders out there that want that title and that’s what makes the whole thing competitive. But as I said I try to stay in one piece and Tadhg winning on the Satish Seemar-trained Wafy have a fantastic season.