An unprecedented 10th UAE jockey’s championship title in the bag, Tadhg O’Shea - the all-time leading rider with 670 winners - is ready for a new and busy season that gets underway in Al Ain on Friday.
The Irishman is booked on all seven races at Al Ain, all six at Jebel Ali on the next day, and five out of six at Sharjah on Sunday. That’s par for the course for the busiest jockey in the UAE.
O’Shea is returning to action after an excellent season in which he rode Group 1 winner Switzerland at the Dubai Golden Shaheen on the Dubai World Cup night.
The champion jockey was humble, saying he was “very fortunate” to ride in all seven races at Al Ain.
He’s in the saddle of five Purebred Arabians for his main patron Khalid Khalifa Al Naboodah and all trained by Ernst Oertel, one for Ajban Stables and one for the champion trainer Bhupat Seemar, in the only thoroughbred race on the card.
“It’s a busy weekend to start with and, fingers crossed, I can ride some winners, hopefully,” O’Shea told The National on the eve of the season opening meeting.
“My main goal every year is to stay healthy. Of course we are here to ride as many winners as we can. We are all back to scratch and all back to zero. Let’s hope we have a very good season.”
O’Shea was challenged for the title by Antonio Fresu, but the Irishman drew clear towards the end of the season to finish with 68 winners - 10 more than the Italian.
“From December onwards, Antonio and I pulled clear of the rest of the field. It was quite tight week in and week out.
“It meant a lot to me because a lot of people told me it was Antonio’s year. I’m sure he will have his year but I wasn’t ready to let go of my championship just yet.”
O’Shea expects this season’s jockey’s title to be close with Fresu, Richard Mullen and Ray Dawson among the leading contenders.
“Antonio will be very strong and obviously Richie Mullen is always a danger and Ray Dawson had a very good first season,” said.
“There is plenty of competition out there with a lot of good riders here. For me, this time of the year is quite exciting with a lot of horses that haven’t run in the Emirates.”
O’Shea is onboard Oertel’s AF Musharek in the silks of Al Naboodah in the opener, and rides the unraced Rabih Al Reef for Al Abjan trainer Abdallah Al Hammadi half an hour later.
Seemar’s Royal Touch making his debut in the UAE is an interesting one for O’Shea in the solitary race for thoroughbreds.
The former Godolphin inmate and Dubawi gelding returns to the racetrack for his first run in more than 19 months.
O’Shea's remaining rides are AF Saleet, Masar, AF Al Baher and AF Thayer, all trained by Oertel for champion owner Al Naboodah.
AL Ain card 2022-23 season opener
5pm: Wathba Stallions Cup (PA) Maiden Dh70,000 (Dirt) 1,400m
5.30pm: Maiden (PA) Dh70,000 (D) 1,400m
6pm: Handicap (TB) Dh50,000 (D) 1,600m
6.30pm: Maiden (PA) Dh70,000 (D) 1,600m
7pm: Maiden (PA) Dh70,000 (D) 1,600m
7.30pm: Handicap (PA) Dh80,000 (D) 1,800m
8pm: Conditions (PA) Dh85,000 (D) 1,000m