x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The perks of working as a jockey for Sheikh Mohammed

Kerrin McEvoy knows he is likely no longer in Godolphin's plans to be their No 1 when Frankie Dettori finally retires, but is the top jockey in Australia for 'The Boss'. Video and audio.

Sheikh Mohammed studies the form at Meydan Racecourse.
Sheikh Mohammed studies the form at Meydan Racecourse.

Four years ago, when Kerrin McEvoy last showcased his skills in the UAE, he was considered the top candidate to replace Frankie Dettori in the most coveted role in world racing. The Australian jockey was second rider to Dettori at Godolphin, and it was assumed the mantle would be passed when the Italian decided to retire.

When McEvoy returns to Dubai this week to ride two races on Saturday's US$27.25 million (Dh100m) World Cup card, he will find a remarkably different landscape.

For a start, the sparkling Meydan Racecourse has risen out of the desert. More important for McEvoy, Godolphin have appointed Silvestre De Sousa to McEvoy's old job as back-up rider to Dettori, and the young tyro, Mickael Barzalona, is now officially on hand, also.

Despite a glittering CV that includes Melbourne Cups, British, Australian and UAE classics and eight Group 1 victories last season, not a single trainer has inquired about McEvoy's availability in the other six thoroughbred races on World Cup night.

Talk about out of sight, out of mind.

"I have not picked up any outside rides, which is a bit of a shame," McEvoy said. "I'm still trying, but you know what it is like at this stage of the season, each of the horses has got their own jockeys. You need to have been riding for the trainers year in year out, or know the animal well, so it is quite understandable."

With only two horses to ride during track work this week, McEvoy's load will be lighter than usual.

The exploits of Godolphin worldwide easily mask the importance of his current job as the No 1 jockey in Australia for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Sheikh Mohammed's Darley operation extends to around 200 horses in training at any one time after he spent $415m on Woodlands Stud to secure a considerable foothold in the country.

There are around 60 horses based in Melbourne and 100 in Sydney at Warwick Farm. There is also an elite pre-training facility at Agnes Banks in Sydney's western suburbs, under the guidance of the trainer Peter Snowden.

McEvoy has the choice of around 20 runners per week. The 31-year-old jockey is based in Sydney but travels to Melbourne, Brisbane or anywhere else in the country when required. As an illustration of how busy he can be, two weeks ago he had eight mounts in Melbourne, then raced in Canberra the next day and Adelaide the day after that - a round trip of around 2,500 miles.

McEvoy will be in the UAE without his two children, Jake and Charlie, but his wife, Cathy, will be accompanying him. It affords an opportunity to relax and reconnect with Dubai, both the city and the people, having ridden here for five consecutive seasons.

"I've been watching all of the races at Meydan and on Tuesday I am looking forward to galloping the horses there and having a good look around," he said. "It's going to be great to see the changes throughout the city and see the boys I have ridden with in the past.

"Frankie called me the other day before the Melbourne Grand Prix. He's an avid Formula One man. He must have just been watching it, wondering whether I would pop up on the television in the pit lane."

McEvoy first came to the attention of Sheikh Mohammed when in 2002 he rode four winners in a day at Caufield Racecourse, including the Group 1 Dubai Racing Club Cup.

Having won the Melbourne Cup on Brew at the age of 20 in 2000, he was enlisted to ride Godolphin's Beekeeper in the 2002 race. On the horse's ninth start, the pair finished third, which led Sheikh Mohammed to invite McEvoy to Dubai for the 2003 season.

The offer of riding in the Royal blue silks full-time in England and around the world followed.

For the boy who had grown up in a racing household it was an experience of a lifetime, and after wins in the Group 1 St Leger at Doncaster and in the St James's Palace Stakes aboard Shamardal when the Royal Ascot meeting was held at York, he was considered in the elite bracket of top riders.

He enjoyed his winters in Dubai, also, and in his final season in 2008 half of the horses he rode finished in the top five.

And so it was only natural when Sheikh Mohammed decided to enter the Australian racing market that he asked McEvoy if he would return home. Wanting to start a family, it was an easy decision.

Now the extent of his role is fully realised, he is content that he is perhaps no longer the first choice to succeed Dettori, who is 41.

"It was a combination of the Darley job being a big one and being first pick on fantastically bred horses in Australia," he said. "We now have two young boys, and it's always tricky to move around the country like you did when just husband and wife.

"I'd love to get back to Royal Ascot, or even Dubai, for a couple of meetings some time. I'm only 31, and jockeys can ride until they are 40-45, and there are a few other things I would like to tick off in my career in the saddle.

"If the job was offered to me I'd certainly consider it, but I've got a similar job here in Australia, where I ride for Sheikh Mohammed, and it's where I was born and bred.

"Godolphin now have a few jockeys which they seem to be preparing for when Frankie retires."

Riding for the man universally known by his Godolphin employees as "The Boss" has many perks, not least is getting the sort of invitations that money cannot buy.

A dinner party here, a reception there, all gave McEvoy a unique insight to Sheikh Mohammed and always with the fallback conversation of one of his most passionate past times.

"He's a very busy man, but he used to pop in to the stables some mornings and watch track work," McEvoy said. "There were a few gatherings that the Sheikh put on that Frankie and I were invited to, and they were great times.

"He could put on a barbecue or party and you would see he thrived on people enjoying themselves in his company.

"That rubs off all the way up to the World Cup. He strives for a similar excellence on that stage as well. I found him a fun person and a man who thoroughly enjoys his racing."

To watch McEvoy ride it is easy to see what Sheikh Mohammed liked all those years ago. The jockey sits motionless in the saddle, knees a tad higher than most, and he is a tidy user of the whip, which he applies sparingly.

His tactical acumen is sublime and if you monitor next week the Trakus system that shows the positioning of horses in all races at Meydan you will see how well he saves ground. It is a style that British audiences found difficult to stomach at first, and one which Australians felt, in the early stages of his career, was too European.

Hugh Taylor was McEvoy's agent for the duration of his stint in England and remembers it took time to get his client recognised by the racing fraternity there.

Video: In the running for the Dubai World Cup

"Godolphin put together DVDs of him in action but even then it took time to get rides and we struggled initially," Taylor said.

"I was very new to being an agent and he never once gave me a hard time. He would question me and get me to justify why I had put him on certain horses, but he was very easy going. Most jockeys can be grumpy, in my experience, but he wasn't like that at all.

"He worked hard to strengthen up when he was over here. Jockeys that sit quietly in the saddle in England are considered weak. He's very well-balanced and some people perceive that to be weak. He had an exceptional record in tight finishes and was massively underrated by racegoers."

With only two rides next week, it seems that European racegoers are not the only ones who may have underrated McEvoy.

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