Tadhg O'Shea not only has rivals Wayne Smith and Richard Mullen to worry about as he rides to retain his UAE champion jockey title, there is also the matter of a disciplinary hearing. But he has trainer Ernst Oertel on his side.
Hearing and rivals may yet trip up Tadhg O'Shea's ride to UAE title
This is a crucial few days in the season of Tadhg O'Shea, the reigning UAE champion jockey.
The Irishman leads Richard Mullen and Wayne Smith, his long-time rival, in the jockeys' standings by a whisker.
O'Shea has a full book of rides on Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club's six-race card on Sunday, including Shayel Aldhabi for trainer Ernst Oertel and owner Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE.
O'Shea has entered the winners' enclosure this season 22 times and yet could miss two key fixtures at a hearing on Monday.
O'Shea was adjudged to be riding carelessly aboard Mark To Market at Meydan Racecourse earlier this month. Lose the appeal and he misses racing on February 28 and March 2, which would hand Smith, who pipped him to the 2010-11 championship, and Mullen, who trails by one winner, valuable momentum.
It is not as if at the beginning of the season O'Shea even harboured dreams of a third title. Shorn of his role as second rider to Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid, O'Shea sought out the services of owner Jimmy Long, whose fledgling operation has not returned a winner in the UAE this season.
And yet from an unexpected corner of Abu Dhabi, Oertel has provided such a steady flow of equine talent that O'Shea can scarcely believe he tops the pile.
"I really didn't think I would be in this position at the beginning of the season," O'Shea told The National. "I've been struggling to get really good thoroughbred rides but I've had a really good run with the Arabians. The Arabians from Ernst have really helped as he is not leaving Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club without two winners each time, which makes it so important that I pick the right horses ... I am available for anyone who wants me. I am my own agent so if I get it wrong there is only one person to give a [stern lecture] to."
Oertel has sent out 18 winners at Abu Dhabi this season and no day's action characterises better his unbridled success at the racecourse than a fortnight ago when the South Africa-born handler saddled horses in four races and won them all.
Skoop won the UAE Arabian Derby and helped propel Sheikh Khalifa to second in the owners' standings behind Sheikh Hamdan.
Sheikh Khalifa is clear leader in the owners' standings in Abu Dhabi and Skoop looks to be a ready-made candidate to take over the standard-bearer duties from Seraphin du Paon one day.
"I have ridden a lot of good Arabians in my time and Skoop would be in my top five already," O'Shea added. "The other day he picked them off one by one in the straight so well. He's only four so if we can keep him sound he will be top class, I'm sure of it.
"It would be a bit unfair on him to run him in the Kahayla Classic on World Cup night as it is too early in his career and we have Seraphin Du Paon anyway."
PLANTEUR STRUGGLES IN WINTER DERBY TRIAL
Planteur struggled home in his prep race for next month's Dubai World Cup at Lingfield Park, England, on Saturday.
Marco Botti's six-year-old was considered the overwhelming favourite for the Winter Derby Trial but scraped home under Adam Kirby from Miblish by a neck.
Miblish is trained by Clive Brittain and owned by Saeed Manana.
However, there was an upside to the performance, as Planteur shaved 0.43 secs off the track record.
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