Record-breaking UAE Champion Jockey Tadhg O'Shea and good friend Antonio Fresu locked in intense title battle

O’Shea and Fresu have gone toe to toe for an entire season in a fight that is shaping into one of the sport’s great rivalries



Record nine-time UAE Champion Jockey Tadhg O'Shea.
Record nine-time UAE Champion Jockey Tadhg O'Shea.

By Leslie Wilson Jr

Published: Wed 9 Mar 2022, 11:52 PM

Last updated: Thu 10 Mar 2022, 12:13 AM

An intense battle for the 2021-2022 UAE Jockey’s Championship between nine-time champion Tadhg O’Shea and his challenger Antonio Fresu is setting the stage for the 26th running of the Dubai World Cup on March 26.

O’Shea and Fresu have gone toe to toe for an entire season in a fight that is shaping into one of the sport’s great rivalries, a monumental title battle that has caught the imagination of racing fans, not just in the UAE, but those in O’Shea’s native Ireland and Fresu’s Italy.

Title challenger Antonio Fresu. — Dubai Racing Club
Title challenger Antonio Fresu. — Dubai Racing Club

Sport is all about rivalries — think Chris Evert vs Martina Navratilova in tennis, Arnold Palmer vs Jack Nicklaus in golf, Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier in boxing, and Steve Cauthen vs Pat Eddery in horse racing.

Everybody loves a good fight and this is where O’Shea and Fresu have delivered week after week, matching each other, win for win, hat-trick for hat-trick.

At this stage in the season, O’Shea leads Fresu by 55 to 51 wins, while both riders are closely matched in terms of prize money earned, although the Italian holds the edge with Dh 5.5m to O’Shea’s Dh 5.3m.

It’s a battle that has held UAE racing captive and it shows no signs of relenting with the season still packed with opportunities for both the protagonists to add to their enormous successes, building to a climatic Dubai World Cup.

“We’re friends, but we are also professionals,” said O’Shea. “It’s good to have a fight on your hands as it makes you more competitive, makes you want to perform better, all the time.”

Fresu, who was a recipient of the Top Jockey prize at the HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Horseracing Excellence Awards, concurs with his rival.

“It’s great to have to fight for something you want so much,” said the Italian who is based at Musabbeh Al Mheri’s Championship-winning Oasis I Stables adjacent to the Meydan Racecourse.

“You try to put on a nice show, give your best.”

Commenting on his chances of toppling O’Shea who has had a vice-like grip on the UAE jockey’s title in recent years, Fresu remained realistic and said: “The odds favour Tadhg. There are more race meetings where he is likely to have more rides, better chances.

“He rides for two big stables, Al Asayl and Zabeel, so for me it is going to be very hard but I’ll try my best, for sure, and we’ll see at the end of the season how things work out,” added Fresu, who has over 6,000 followers on social media.

“But I’m enjoying the moment. This is my sixth season here in the UAE and I think I’ve always been competitive and tried to finish in the top five. Last year, I finished second with 32 winners but obviously, this year is going a lot better.

“I get a lot of support from my stable, Musabbeh is a top trainer and he has been very encouraging towards me. It means a lot.”

Two of Fresu’s biggest wins of the season came in the Group 2 Al Shindagha Sprint aboard the Al Mheri-trainer Meraas and Azure Coast in the UAE 2000 Guineas for Russian handler Pavel Vashchenko.

“I started my UAE career with Erwan Charpy who helped me a lot but when the offer came to join Musabbeh I couldn’t say no. I jumped at it,” he says. “It’s a very powerful yard with over 50 top-class horses and helped me take a big step forward in my career.”

Fresu has pedaled his wares in his native Italy as well as in England but it’s in the UAE that he craves success, given the challenges and high level of racing. And that success could reach its peak should he become the new champion jockey.

“That would be nice, very nice,” he admits.


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