Ahead of Dubai World Cup, veteran UAE jockey Tadhg O'Shea is focused on 'getting the job done'
After becoming UAE's most successful rider, Irishman looks to equal record for most jockey championships
"Daddy, did you have a winner?"
The answer to this question usually determines the mood in the Tadhg O'Shea household on race days. In fact, it has a direct impact on how well the veteran UAE jockey's two young children, Daragh (8) and Aaron (6), sleep that night.
“I promise you, they are awake when I come home to ask If I had a winner,” O'Shea says. “If I say ‘yes’, they are happy to go back to sleep, and if I say ‘no’, it takes longer for them to go to sleep.”
Good thing then he does not have to race every day of the week. Not that he has to worry too much about that – just look at his career stats.
The Irishman clinched his 505th win in Abu Dhabi at the weekend to become the most successful UAE jockey of all time. And having broken Richard Hills' record, he is bidding to equal another: Ted Durcan's tally of seven UAE Jockey’s Championship titles.
Following wins in Dubai (1) on Thursday, Abu Dhabi (1) on Friday and Al Ain (2) on Saturday, O'Shea finds himself on 44 winners this season – four more than Richard Mullen, his closest challenger.
So, the question Daragh and Aaron pose these days is a little tweaked.
“The main question now in the O'Shea house is ‘did you have a winner’ and if I say ‘yes’, it’s a good night, and ‘did Richie have a winner’ and if it’s a ‘no’, then it’s fantastic," O'Shea jokes.
The championship race is expected to go down to the wire as two accomplished jockeys, who also happen to be friends and stablemates, slug it out.
“Richard has helped me tremendously throughout the years," O'Shea says. "He even helped me to get a job at the Zabeel Stables [this season] riding as the second jockey to him.
“There’s a lot of joking going on behind the scenes between me and Richie. Obviously we don’t give an inch when we are on the racetrack. But he’s thoroughly happy if I have winners and vice versa."
O'Shea is confident whoever loses the title race will bear no grudges towards the winner. "To get this close and lose will be disappointing, but look, I have had a tremendous season and it doesn’t really matter whichever way it goes."
The 37-year-old has come a long way since he first started racing in the UAE 18 years ago.
He was the champion apprentice two years in a row in Ireland, and part of his reward was an all-paid trip to Dubai including a chance to work with local trainers. He ended up collaborating with such names as Erwan Charpy, Paddy Rudkin, John Saddler and Kiaran McLaughlin.
In fact, O'Shea's first race in the UAE came aboard a Charpy-trained Purebred Arabian named Danidor at Jebel Ali. He won that day – on December 21, 2001 – marking his first triumph outside Ireland.
It remains one of his best career moments, too. “There are many good memories in the UAE but riding the first winner is one that stands out for me,” he says.
The win is all the more significant for O'Shea given Charpy was taking a chance on him.
"It was only my second week in the UAE when Erwan gave me the leg-up to ride Danidor," he recalls. "He didn’t know me but provided me with the opportunity, and that win put me on course."
Ever since, O'Shea has kept coming back the UAE where he spends most of the year before returning home for the summer. “I come back on the 1st of October every year and I don’t leave until end of April,” he says.
Over the nearly two decades, O'Shea has accumulated many wins and many more joyful memories.
He will never forget reaching the 500-winner milestone at Sharjah, equalling Hills' tally at Meydan Racecourse on Thursday and surpassing it in the capital the following day. It makes him feel "privileged".
“It hasn’t sunk in yet," he says. "We got plenty of racing here and you can be sure we’ll have a big party in the middle of April when racing finishes for the season.”
• Dubai World Cup 2019: tickets, schedule, Gwen Steffani and how to watch on TV
• What You Waiting For? Gwen Stefani to perform at the Dubai World Cup
Most success stories begin with a love affair, and O'Shea was passionate about riding horses from a very young age. It certainly grabbed his attention at a time when he hated school. And it helped that he did not weigh a lot.
“I didn’t grow enough to be a bouncer or security guard, so I decided to be a jockey,” he laughs.
He gets serious when he says success has not changed him the way it may have other people. “I’m not stylish. I’m very humble. I never worry about pictures and how I look," he says with a smile.
O'Shea credits dedication to his craft and professionalism for his success.
“I always like to go and get the job done," he points out. "I obviously proved this over the years and I want to focus on the job I do for my owners and trainers. When I’m on a horse it’s always to get the job done."
Apart from winning the championship, O’Shea is targeting a second career win on Dubai World Cup Night; his only success came atop Eric Lemartinel-trained Mizzna, another Purebred Arabian, in the Dubai Kahayla Classic in 2008.
“She was another highlight of my career,” he says. “I would like to have another winner on World Cup Night and the jockey’s championship is always there to aim at.”
O'Shea clearly likes to tick off specific goals. But what is more evident is his love of riding and "getting the job done" so that he can keep going back home to give his children the good news.
Updated: March 17, 2019 01:10 PM