Author: Duane Fonseca
One of UAE racing’s most endearing characters, Tadhg O’Shea is as much an undisputed champion in the hearts of racegoers as he is among his rivals in the UAE where, last season, he was crowned UAE Champion Jockey for a record equalling seventh time. Level with the legendary Ted Durcan on that score, the 2018/19 season also saw the industrious O’Shea take over from Richard Hills as the UAE’s winningmost rider with a staggering 511 wins. It was a stunning season for the Irishman, which climaxed with him winning the 2019 Dubai Kahayla Classic aboard the Khalid Al Nabooda-owned and bred, and Ernst Oertel-schooled AF Maher. But as the start of the 2019/20 season looms, O’Shea has wiped the slate clean. He knows it’s a start from scratch for him and the rest who will look to stop him from claiming a third consecutive jockeys’ championship, a feat that will get the indomitable rider yet another mention in the record books. Appointed Jebel Ali Stables trainer Nicholas Bachalard’s first jockey in the summer, O’Shea told Al Adiyat about his plans for the future.
Can you tell us more about your appointment as first jockey at Jebel Ali Stables and riding in HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s yellow silks?
I was approached at the end of last season and it came out of the blue. I was approached by Nicholas Bachalard and racing manager Mohammed Al Shehhi and they offered me the job for this season. There have been some fantastic jockeys that have ridden there all along like Lester Piggott, Johnny Murtagh and Kieren Fallon, so it was a huge honour to be even offered the position and I was very grateful. It came on the back of a championship winning season, and I’ll be doing all I can to justify their decision to appoint me.
How have things gone so far?
I’ve been back only two weeks so I’ll be only learning about the horses. A lot of them I don’t know. They bought a few horses at the breeze-up sales in America and I think they will be very exciting once I get to know them. They obviously performed well in the breeze-up to catch Nicholas and Mohammed’s attention and hopefully some of them will come good. Jebel Ali is a stable in a process of rebuilding. They’ve had tremendous success over the years and a lot of the horses you’ve seen over the past couple of seasons have been older horses, stalwarts like Forjatt who are still in the stables but won’t be running. Restocking takes a bit of time. I think at the moment Jebel Ali is in a transitioning period and there’s new blood coming to the stable. These are very, very exciting times and we would like to see some nice horses coming through, but the future is definitely ahead of us rather than behind us.
Do you feel pressure as you start the defence of your Jockeys’ Championship title?
It’s great to be back and the only thing about starting a new season is that you start from zero again and you are back to scratch. But I am very fortunate to be back and I will try to get as many rides and winners and stay in one piece.
What was your off season like?
I kept very, very busy in the off season and most of the time was away riding Purebred Arabians. I also rode for Jimmy Long. My brother-in-law trains 12-16 National Hunt horses and he had me riding those. So, I kept very, very fit during the summer.
Can you speak about your other commitments this season?
I will be reunited with Khalid Al Nabooda and Ernst Oertel and will be riding mainly Purebred Arabians for them. I am fortunate enough to get to ride for Jebel Ali Stables and Sheikh Ahmed and I’m involved with Zabeel Stables as well so hopefully I can work hard to get rides from all three stables. Jebel Ali is an exciting venture and it should work great with Khalid because he has mainly Purebred Arabians and Sheikh Ahmed has only Thoroughbreds. At Zabeel, Satish Seemar and Bhupat Seemar were very kind to take me on last year. Hopefully, we can blend it together well and it’s something I am really looking forward to.
What are your thoughts on last season?
It was fantastic in many ways. From a personal point of view, it was my first year in the job for Khalid. I had ridden for Ernst when he was at Al Asayl where he had been Champion Trainer and I Champion Jockey so we knew each other well. But it was a very important year for Khalid because he never really had a retained jockey before. I have ridden plenty for him over the years but to win as his retained rider was a very special year and it all came together well, with AF Maher winning the Al Maktoum Challenge and then going on to win the Kahayla Classic which is the pinnacle of Purebred Arabian racing here in the UAE.
What are your thoughts on the Saudi Cup’s Purebred Arabian race?
It’s going to be a big Arabian race over 2000m and worth a lot of money. Obviously, we’ll have to wait to see over time which horse will go there, but I’m sure AF Maher, if Khalid decides to go there, will be very, very competitive. He’s a class act on dirt. It does fall around our Maktoum Challenge, but it is a month before Dubai World Cup night and the prize money is huge so it’s a very exciting venture. They’ve put up a lot of money and hopefully we can support it in some way.
Any personal goals for the season?
For me, the season starts from scratch. I never say I’ve won this and I’ve won that, I go in saying I want to win more. I think you need that drive and determination to go on and if you rest on your laurels and say you’ve won seven jockeys’ championships and are the winningmost rider, you probably wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Everybody who knows me, knows I’m quite the opposite so I’m back again to do my best. I don’t like to set goals personally because then you set yourself up for a lot of disappointment. I like to be realistic. I’m riding for some very good people and I’d like to do them justice and do myself justice and in the process ride as many winners as I can.
The UAE Jockeys’ Championship race is getting tougher every year. What are your thoughts on it?
Connor Beasley will be the one to watch this year. He did remarkably well last year and you can never take the championship for granted. It was very tough last year. I was third or fourth in January and then I had a very good end of January and early February and I went into second and overtook Connor. He and Richie Mullen were battling it out and then me and Richie battled for the whole of February. We went toe for toe and winner for winner and every time I drew level with him he would go and win the next race. It was great competition and then March was very good to me and I had plenty of good Arabians to ride and that helped me get forward and I stayed there until the end.
Is yellow your favourite colour?
It is now. I’ve ridden plenty of winners for Sheikh Ahmed when I was based in England with Mick Channon. I’ve ridden plenty of winners in the colours and last year had a lucky ride getting on Draco and he duly obliged, so there will be plenty more and it’s looking good this year.