Egan Comes Of Age With Cup Win

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David Egan with his Saudi Cup trophy | Neville Hopwood

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By the time David Egan was born Mike Smith had already won two Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Jockey. Smith is still very much at the top of his game at the age of 55, but it was the 21-year-old Egan who got the upper hand in the richest race in the world on Saturday when guiding Mishriff (Ire) (Make Believe {GB}) to an important home victory for Prince A A Faisal in the $20-million Saudi Cup.

The fact that the youngster is the retained rider for such a respected international owner/breeder speaks volumes for the regard in which he has been held since being crowned champion apprentice in 2017. Rarely has the phrase 'an old head on young shoulders' been more apt than when it comes to Egan. In conversation, he is considered and courteous in his responses, even when it comes to discussing the biggest win of his career to date—a result which would entitle him to crow a little.

Speaking from Bahrain, where he has been riding throughout the winter, he says of the aftermath of Saturday's Saudi Cup victory, “It's just starting to calm down now. I got loads of messages on what's app and social media and I'm still replying to them all now. Since I've come back to Bahrain I've been riding a few lots early every morning so that brings you back to planet Earth. But it was a fantastic weekend. It was great to have dad there and it was a fantastic effort by the Saudi Cup team just to get the meeting to go ahead at all. To get so many people from all over the world there wasn't easy but they got it done.”

Egan, who grew up in Ireland but is now based in Newmarket in the UK, has used his winters wisely to gain experience in different jurisdictions. Over the last few months he has predominantly been attached to the in-form stable of Fawzi Nass. 

“When there's no turf racing [in Britain] in the winter months and the majority of the trainers that I ride for don't have many runners on the all-weather it gives me a chance to go and explore the world,” he explains. “I've gone to Australia, America, now Bahrain, and it's something I will definitely look forward to, adding to the visas on my passport.”

Throughout the fledgling years of his career and on his travels, Egan has been mentored by his father, John, a Classic-winning jockey still race-riding at the age of 52 but arguably playing a more important role in the honing of his eldest son's abundant talent. 

“My dad has been great, not only helping me but also guiding me in the right direction and then letting me go and do what I need to do. But I know he's always there whenever I need him,” says Egan, whose mother Sandra Hughes trained, notably winning the Irish Grand National in the aftermath of the death of her father, the legendary National Hunt jockey and trainer Dessie Hughes. The young Egan can also call on the expertise of his uncle, former three-time champion jockey Richard Hughes, who now trains in Lambourn, while fellow jockey Paul Mulrennan is his father's cousin.

“With the family so steeped in racing, although my accomplishments are good for me and everyone is happy for me, everyone else has their own accomplishments in different ways. Obviously with Richard being a trainer, my dad is a jockey, and when my grandad was training, everyone has their own little piece of racing and it's a fantastic sport to be a part of,” he says.

“I'm just thankful I grew up in a family that was in amongst it as I probably wouldn't be in the situation I am in today without them. I grew up in Ireland going racing every weekend with my grandfather, predominantly jump racing, to Punchestown, Fairyhouse. And then when I was about 13 or 14 I decided I did want to be a jockey and I was quite small so I thought a Flat jockey would be the right route to take. Thankfully it has worked out.”

The jockey will doubtless feel some relief not just at winning such a major prize for his boss but also for regaining the ride on Mishriff. He was aboard when the colt won his maiden by 10 lengths at Nottingham as a 2-year-old, as well as when he was second in the Saudi Derby on his first trip to Riyadh, and for his first black-type win in the Listed Newmarket S. But quarantine and travel complications in the midst of the pandemic meant that Egan was unable to ride him in the G1 Prix du Jockey Club, which Mishriff won under French-based Ioritz Mendizabal, while Frankie Dettori was aboard for his follow-up win in the G2 Prix Guillaume d'Ornano back in Deauville.

“I'm just delighted to have got back on board,” he says. “I'm very thankful to Prince Faisal for putting his trust in me. He could easily have gone for an American jockey who is a lot more used to riding on the dirt week in and week out. I was delighted to repay his faith in me by steering Mishriff home, but I wouldn't have been able to do it if it wasn't for Mishriff—he's an absolute champion who has got a huge heart and is tremendously versatile.”

While Egan is quick to credit his mount, he had also done plenty of homework ahead of the race, particularly as the dirt is a relatively unfamiliar surface for European jockeys.

“I was very determined that I would have a plan going into the race,” he says. “I studied all the form, got advice from lots of different people regarding riding on the dirt and on the other horses in the race. I went through it with people in America who do Timeform figures. So I had a plan, and if Mishriff did happen to jump slowly and wasn't able to go with them, I had plan B and C ready to go, but thankfully plan A was executed perfectly thanks to the great horse I was on top of.” 

Reflecting on how the race unfolded, he adds, “I knew once I'd gone 50 yards that he was moving well and travelling strongly. We were able to get that nice position in behind Charlatan. Mike Smith and Joel Rosario [on Knicks Go] didn't go a breakneck pace, which is obviously what you'd expect from world-class jockeys, but he travelled really well in behind the leaders—nearly too well for the dirt because you can over-travel on the dirt, you always want to be in a relaxed rhythm.”

He continues, “It was only round the bend when I got into a little bit of trouble when Mishriff got a bit flat-footed. He's probably a ten-furlong-plus horse rather than those quick milers, but thankfully the straight is long enough that we could catch Mike Smith and Charlatan before the line. The nice, long straight in Riyadh suited my horse as there was more of an emphasis on stamina rather than quickening off the bend. He's a top-class horse and no doubt he'll be even better over a furlong or two farther.”

Egan continues, “Riding against Mike Smith and Joel Rosario, along with other names who were in the race at the Saudi Cup meet, well it's the richest race in the world and it's a privilege to ride against such great riders. Luckily I was on the best horse on the day.”

Barring a potential return to ride at Lingfield on Mar. 6—quarantine allowing—Egan will remain in Bahrain until the British turf season gets underway, and his next big raceday to look forward to in the Middle East is the King's Cup on Mar. 12, in which he is likely to be riding for Fawzi Nass. A potential run in the Dubai World Cup is still being considered for Mishriff. Egan will return subsequently to his regular job with Roger Varian, for whom he had his first ride in a Classic when third on Qabala (Scat Daddy) in the 1000 Guineas two years ago. This provided an historic moment for the Egan family and the rare occasion of father and son riding against each other in a British Classic, as John was aboard the Mark Tompkins-trained Garrel Glen (GB) (Mount Nelson {GB}). 

“I'll be riding for Prince Faisal again this year and he has a horse with Mr Varian and with Mr Gosden, as well as a couple in France which might be a bit more difficult to go and ride. We will have to see how the quarantine restrictions change throughout the year,” says Egan.

“I think Prince Faisal was almost in shock after the Saudi Cup, as was I. It was tremendous for him and for his successful breeding operation that he has had probably longer than I have been alive. He's bred so many good horses in the family. He raced Mishriff's sire and bred his dam, and that's extra special. Buying the winner of the Saudi Cup is one thing but breeding him must mean Mishriff has an extra special place in his heart. It's an honour to be involved with the horse.”

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