Meet record-breaking jockey Tadhg O'Shea, who owes his spectacular career to late Sheikh Hamdan

The 10-time champion credits late Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum for giving him the breakthrough

By Leslie Wilson Jr.

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Published: Thu 12 May 2022, 9:35 PM

Last updated: Fri 13 May 2022, 8:16 PM

When Tadhg O’Shea won the Irish apprentice championship in 1998, little did he realise that his life would never be the same again.

His accomplishments on the racecourses in horse-loving Ireland caught the attention of one of the most powerful and influential figures in the sport who would reward the 19-year-old O’Shea with an all-expenses-paid scholarship to ride in the UAE during the winter season.

O’Shea took advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with unbridled enthusiasm and went on to impress one and all with his skills, dedication, and effervescent personality.

He would shatter record after record over the next 20 years while establishing himself as one of the best jockeys to have ever ridden in the UAE.

This is his story.

The early years

From the time you first set eyes on O’Shea, you get the feeling that he was different. A bundle of energy blessed with unique riding skills; he is an amazing powerhouse in the saddle.

Picking up rides for the likes of former UAE champion trainers Kiaran McLaughlin, Erwan Charpy, Paddy Rudkin, and John Sadler, O’Shea gave them their money’s worth and left a huge impression.

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“The scholarship that he offered me opened the doors to my future and all the wonderful opportunities that the UAE had to offer a young jockey," said O'Shea.

In 2001, he rode his very first winner in UAE aboard the Erway Charpy-trained Purebred Arabian Danidor.

“That win cemented my relationship with Dubai,” he said. “I could have never dreamed that I would be riding alongside talented jockeys like Ted Durcan, who was at the height of his powers, Willie Supple, Richard hills, Michael Hills, John Carroll, and Gary Hind. “I was a little bit in dreamland.”

The dream would come alive in 2008 when O’Shea won the prestigious Dubai Kahayla Classic aboard Mizzna, the same year that Angus Gold, the racing manager to Sheikh Hamdan, offered him the pivotal position to be the understudy to Richard Hills, the stable’s retained rider.

It was a role that he would relish for four unforgettable years.

“The chance to ride for one of the biggest owners in the world was the stuff dreams are made of it helped fuel my commitment and dedication to being the best jockey I can,” he recalled.

“Riding for the big stables gave me a lot of confidence and the opportunity to ride good horses. Ernst (Oertel) did a lot for my career, and I can’t thank him enough.”

O'Shea has, to date, ridden in as many as 14 countries around the world.

Driven by success

The renowned jockey reached the pinnacle of his career during the 2019-20 UAE racing season when he rode into the history books by eclipsing Richard Hills’ 503 winner record to become the country’s most prolific jockey ever,

He also recorded his first Group 1 Purebred Arabian success, thanks to the win on AF Maher in Round 3 of the Al Maktoum Challenge and captured a second Dubai Kahayla Classic aboard the same horse in 2019.

If that was not enough O’hea collected his seventh UAE jockeys’ title following a titanic battle with his good friend, Richard Mullen.

“I don’t set goals or targets because they set people up for disappointment. The one thing I do is try my best for trainers and owners that I’m riding for,” O’Shea said. “It’s great to be a champion jockey but it is not the only thing we work for.”

He said he tries to stay healthy to be competitive. "I see so many people say they want to ride that many horses and that many winners but that doesn’t tick my boxes. Because we are in such an unpredictable game you never know what’s around the corner. I take it one day at a time and I’m driven by success,” he added.

More records and a landmark win

The 2021-2022 season in the UAE was a landmark year for O’Shea who won an unprecedented 10th jockey’s title and capped the year by nailing his first Group 1 thoroughbred victory aboard Switzerland in the Dubai Golden Shaheen on Dubai World Cup night.

“It was fantastic obviously to get into double figures and win a 10th Championship was extra special,” he said.

“Numerically I had my best year winners-wise, I also had the most rides I ever had in a season. I don’t think anybody has had over 400 rides in a single season in the UAE.

“My biggest dream was to ride a thoroughbred winner on a big stage like the Dubai World Cup and that thankfully happened with Switzerland.”

The family man

The family values bestowed on him by his parents are very much in evidence when you talk to O’Shea who attributes his wife and two sons for all the success that he has achieved.

“Everybody is behind you on the good days, it’s the bad days when you need The love of your family,” he said.

“My wife Debbie is the unsung hero because she is not into the glamour; she's just there for me when things are going well and more importantly when things are not going so well.

“My two boys, Darragh (9) and Aaron (6) are at an age when they can understand what I do and they know when Daddy has a good day and they also know when Daddy doesn’t have a good day, so they are good supporters.

“Without a good family behind you, nothing makes sense. I owe it all to them,” he added.

Grateful to champion trainers

O’Shea has come to appreciate the support that he has received from all quarters of an industry where things can change season-by-season, sometimes month-by-month.

Even the support he receives from the fans is not lost on him.

“I’ve got tremendous support from people like Bhupat Seemar, Ernst O’Ertel and Khalid Khalifa Al Naboodah. Without them, this would not be happening for me year after year,” he said.

“They have all been phenomenal for my career and they are due for recognition.

“I try to give fans as much time as I can because I know how much time and respect, they give me. Each year, I come back for them and I will be back again later this year, even more hungry now at the age of 40 than I was when I was 20!,” he signed off.

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