Champion O'Shea Bags A Memorable First

Tadhg O'Shea is led in aboard Switzerland | Racingfotos.com


There was much cause for Irish celebration at Meydan on Saturday night when A Case Of You (Ire) (Hot Streak {Ire}) and Ronan Whelan shot to glory in the G1 Al Quoz Sprint for Ado McGuinness. But a victory that meant just as much for one Irish jockey was that of Switzerland (Speightstown) in the other major sprint on the card, the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen, which provided Tadhg O'Shea with his first Group 1 winner at the age of 40.

O'Shea has not, however, been devoid of success throughout the last two decades. Very much the opposite in fact. Much of that time has been spent in the UAE, where he is the most successful jockey of all time and has been champion on nine occasions.

“It's my 20th season in Dubai and I'm hopefully on the cusp of sealing a tenth championship as I'm eight in front with two meetings to go,” says O'Shea.

Those meetings take place on Thursday and Friday, and however many more wins the jockey adds to his tally of 65 for the season, none will come close to his major success on Saturday for Bhupat Seemar.

He continues, “To ride a Group 1 winner on Dubai World Cup night was special. I haven't ridden a Group 1 winner on the Thoroughbreds and I turned 40 in February. I don't get too many chances in Group 1s so I was thinking maybe I'd missed the boat on that one, so it was very, very special and a huge performance by the horse on the night. He was beautifully prepared by Bhupat and the team at Zabeel Stables.”

The victory also sealed an impressive start to the training career of Seemar, who took over the licence from his uncle, Satish Seemar, at the start of the season.

“It's amazing,” says O'Shea. “Bhupat has been in Dubai for as long as I have and he's been assistant to his uncle for the last 19 years, so to be champion trainer in the first season with his name on the licence is quite something. I rode his first stakes winner on a horse called Tuz and now to ride him a Group 1 winner in his first year, it's been one of those pinch-yourself seasons.”

He adds, “I've never ridden as many winners here in a season, and for Bhupat, too, it's just been one of those years when everything clicked. We had the rub of the green throughout and the horses stayed extremely healthy and well and held their form from the drop of the flag until World Cup night. It's like a dream really and I don't want to wake up.”

The stable's good night at Meydan on Saturday also saw Summer Is Tomorrow (Summer Front) run second in the G2 UAE Derby behind Crown Pride (Jpn) (Reach The Crown {Jpn}). O'Shea had even more reason to be pleased with that good run as he was responsible for buying the colt at last year's Arqana Breeze-up Sale for £120,000.

“He ran a huge race,” says the rider. “He's won twice for us this season, including at the carnival, and now he's been second in the UAE Derby. I'll be totally honest, I didn't think he'd stay the distance. I bought him for the Burke family at Arqana, which was held at Doncaster last year because of Covid. I was more active at the sales because a lot of owners and Bhupat couldn't travel because of Covid restrictions, but it worked out well.”

He adds, “He breezed extremely well and he took to the sand over here like a duck to water. I suppose it does help a little bit, when you're looking at their action at the breeze-ups, to have ridden for a long time out here. That horse really grabbed for the ground and he had a knee action when he breezed. With all those things put together I recommended him to the Burke family and happily he has paid for himself though the season, culminating with a huge second in the UAE Derby on World Cup night.”

The stable will now be the beneficiary of a number of lots from the inaugural Goffs Dubai Breeze-up Sale, held on the Thursday evening before the World Cup.

“Goffs did a great job and it was fantastic that the Maktoum family organised to have the breeze-up sale in Dubai,” O'Shea says. “Bhupat ended up with seven horses from the sale with very good pedigrees. They are the next winners in waiting, hopefully, and it's hugely exciting for the horse population in Dubai. Most of the horses we get over here have started their careers elsewhere in Ireland, or the UK, or France, so it's nice for some of the trainers over here to start off with a blank canvas and to be able to give them time to acclimatise. I think the sale went down very well and I'm sure the results will come in the upcoming season.”

He continues, “It's a great week when everyone ships in and the sale has added an extra spice to it as there's people that you see at the sale that wouldn't have been here normally for World Cup week. There was a huge gathering and I think the timing was great.”

After racing in the UAE concludes this week, O'Shea, a native of Dromahane, Co Cork, heads to Qatar for the end of their season before making his annual summer trip home to Ireland.

“In years gone by I used to come back and try to ride in Ireland or the UK but I found it was a bit difficult,” he says frankly. “The lads who are there all year round, sometimes it's a struggle for them to get rides so I am under no illusion that I can get off a plane and be somewhere for two months and try to get rides. I concentrate on what's working and that's over here. I get home in the summer for seven or eight weeks. I used to call Dubai my second home but I spend longer here now than I do anywhere else.”

The first anniversary of the death of Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum passed last week, and O'Shea reflects on how much he owes to his support in the early days of his career.

“I was very fortunate that back in 2001 there were four of us fighting out the Irish champion apprentice title, and with about six weeks left in the season we were notified through our trainers that Sheikh Hamdan had kindly sponsored an all-expenses paid trip to Dubai for whoever was champion that year to work for four of his trainers,” he recalls. 

“Thankfully that was me, and he did the same next year and luckily I won it again. So that's how it all started. It's amazing the path you take in life but I've been coming even since and I rode a lot of winners for the late Sheikh Hamdan and his family, and have continued to do so for his wider family. It has been a hugely successful place for me and my family, and without Sheikh Hamdan's initial invitation I might never have come here.”

With Covid having forced the abandonment of the Dubai World Cup in 2020, and then led to few people being in attendance last year, O'Shea was thrilled to have been able to record his biggest winner in front of a bumper crowd.

He says, “As big and as mesmerising as Meydan is to look at it was great to see so many people back in the stands. We love the crowd and the supporters, they mean everything, and it was a little bit dreary through Covid times with no crowd. 

“Switzerland was the only UAE winner on the night so the local crowd really got behind him. They are great supporters, and they erupted when he walked back in.”

He continues, “The only low point of the night was my horse in the Godolphin Mile, Al Nefud (GB), who was a warm favourite, but he never felt right to me and I ended up pulling him up and it turns out that he fractured his pelvis. Thankfully he's comfortable and he will recover. But the rest of the horses all ran with great credit, finishing second and fourth in the Derby and then Switzerland winning, and we were so proud of Remorse running sixth in the World Cup. It was a great night.”

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