Author: Duane Fonseca

IRISH APPRENTICE Sean Kirrane knows he has a long way to go before he can ride out his claim and turn professional, but the rate at which he has started to produce winning rides in the UAE, it might not be that long. Based at Satish Seemar’s Zabeel Stables, Kirrane has started to make an impression and signed off with a quartet a fortnight ago, including a first ever career double at Al Ain, which contributed to his winning tally of five. But that’s not all if you look at his stats so far; in his first 73 rides Kirrane has finished among the money 27 times. He has eight second place and two third place efforts to show for his time thus far and with the major chunk of the second half of the campaign left, Kirrane is bound to edge closer to the 95 win target that will help him shed his apprentice’s tag.

The Irishman is keeping count. “There’s a long way to go before 95 and I think I am at 26 right now,” said Kirrane, who turned 20 on 22 January. As an apprentice, in most races, Kirrane claims a 3kg deduction from the total weight his mount carries in a race and it appears he is starting to capitalise well, winning twice for Seemar and Khalifa Al Neyadi and once for Ernst Oertel. “It has been a good start to my riding career here in the UAE. I’ve been here since the middle of November so have had plenty of rides and Mr Seemar has been very good to me as well as Mr Al Neyadi and Mr Oertel as well, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities from trainers,” said Kirrane.

“It’s been a long time waiting as my first winner was at the end of November, on Seemar’s Au Coeur, and I hadn’t ridden a winner until my double at Al Ain on Friday and then Meydan Saturday and now Abu Dhabi. I guess when your luck is in it’s in and when it’s not it’s not basically.” Kirrane was born and raised in Blackrock, Dublin, in a family that had no connection with horse racing. He started riding ponies at the age of three and growing up, his then smaller frame and a genuine love for horses nudged him towards a career in race riding. Once it was determined he wanted to be a jockey, he enlisted at 14 and simply followed the process and before he turned 17 he had acquired his apprentice licence and joined trainer Johnny Levins’ yard in Kildare.

Kirrane’s first winner was aboard Levins’ Bainne in an apprentice handicap on The Curragh on 13 May 2017. It was just his sixth ride and one of his three wins in Ireland before he moved to Richard Spencer’s yard in England in October 2018. He enjoyed a good run of luck in England winning 19 of his 156 rides, apart from the one mishap aboard Jean Valjean at Yarmouth, where the horse bolted and dislodged Kirrane before crashing into the barriers and escaping on to the adjoining golf course. Neither horse nor rider was hurt in that moment of mayhem that preceded the call from Zabeel that brought him to Dubai. “I was always very small as a child and just a love for the animal if I am to be completely honest is what sent me into race riding,” said Kirrane, whose last weekend’s winning quartet comprises Al Neyadi’s AF Ramz and Jayide Al Boraq, Seemar’s Speedy Move and Oertel’s AF Makerah.

“When I was younger I loved riding ponies and ever since I started riding horses really as a young lad, I’ve always loved racing. “I remember Best Mate winning three Cheltenham Gold Cups between 2002 and 2004 and my memory of the horse passing away. I remember all that stuff so I’ve been a fan of racing for a very long time. “My parents weren’t into riding at all and I don’t come from a background that is horsey really. I started riding ponies when I was three and doing lessons once a week and when I was 14 started to learn how to ride racehorses and obtained my jockey’s licence in Ireland when I was 16. “I stayed in Ireland for two years and moved to England to Richard Spencer’s yard.

He was very good to me and then Mr Seemar offered me an opportunity to come over here in October 2019 and I jumped at it. He and Bhupat have been very good to me and we’ve had a good time so far.” The other thing that seems to get him about the sport is the adrenaline rush as he explains: “There are people who pay good money to get the adrenaline rush us jockeys experience on a daily basis and it’s an amazing feeling to ride racehorses. The thrill of winning on brilliant racecourses like Meydan and good horses is what we all live for as jockeys.” Kirrane reveres riders like Richard Hughes, Adrie de Vries, Paul Mulrennan and Daniel Muscutt and his reasons are purely practical. “There are jockeys I try to emulate, mainly riders that are tall like myself and so some of those taller jockeys that are very good, like Richard Hughes, I’ve always looked at them and tried to model myself after those who are built like me,” Kirrane explains.

“Richard Hughes is built like me and he was top class. Among the current jockeys, there are Paul Mulrennan and Daniel Muscutt who are very good. Adrie de Vries is excellent as well. Those taller lads, I’m modelling myself on them.” Kirrane seems to have taken to Dubai well and is enjoying his time in the city. Rubbing shoulders with top riders like Richard Mullen and Tadhg O’Shea on a daily basis is a great learning experience as well. “It was a great transition moving from Ireland to England and I was lucky to get that opportunity but really to get the opportunity to come from England to the UAE, that was big for me,” he said. “Mr Seemar is renowned for bringing on apprentices and giving them opportunities.

You can rattle the names off, Ryan Moore, Hector Crouch, Sean Davis and many others like Harry Bentley. He really is renowned for bringing on people and all those names mentioned have just gone on to be jockeys and good jockeys. “I am very lucky to be in the position I am at the moment. I ride out every morning with Richie who has been a Champion Jockey here and every bit of advice he gives me is invaluable. Tadhg comes in to us once a week as well and the advice from those two at Zabeel is phenomenal. They’ve been a great help to me.” Seemar heaped praise on Kirrane following his victory aboard Speedy Move at Meydan last Saturday calling him a ‘very conscientious jockey who takes his job seriously’. Seemar said: “He is young and a lot of times the youth have other things on their minds, but Sean is serious. I find him very professional and a gentleman of a young man. He works well and I think he’s really settled in and is showing his real talent now.”