Tadhg O’Shea has enjoyed an accomplished, record-breaking racing career, but his unprecedented 11th UAE jockey championship holds even more significance than the previous 10.
O’Shea is the most successful and decorated jockey in UAE racing history. Not only has the Irishman won the highest number of championship titles, but he is also the all-time leading rider with 730 winners in a career spanning more than two decades in the Emirates.
En route to his 11th title this season, O'Shea rode five winners in a six-race card in Abu Dhabi and four the previous day in Jebel Ali in early March, for nine triumphs within 24 hours. The accomplishment was made all the more remarkable as O'Shea was dealing with personal tragedy.
“It was an amazing season and an 11th championship was very special," O'Shea, 40, told The National. "Taking nothing away from the 10 before, this one meant a little bit more personally as I lost my mother (Ann) in February.
“She was a bit sick from December onwards and that gave me that extra bit of incentive to keep pushing and stay strong for her.
“My mum was always proud of me. I am sure she is looking at me from above with lots of pride. She was not only my mother but also my biggest fan. She has been behind me from day one.
“She was the first one to tell the whole village back home if I had a winner or couple of winners. She would say 'my boy won in Dubai' and I want to dedicate this championship for her. To have a four-timer and ride five winners within 24 hours when coming back after my mother passed away was very special.”
O’Shea rode into the history books during the 2019/20 season by eclipsing Richard Hills’ 503-winner record to become the UAE's all-time leading jockey, a mark he has been extending with each passing season.
He retained his grip on the championship this season with 60 winners – 12 more than Antonio Fresu, his closest challenger – to extend his title-winning run to six years in a row.
Also among the highlights of another memorable season packed with victories was a near-miss as O’Shea narrowly lost out on winning the $2 million Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen for the second year running, on the same horse, Switzerland.
It was a performance that made him “very proud ... it was very brave run by a very courageous horse”.
O'Shea is now ready to embark on a new adventure. The UAE champion jockey will spend the summer riding for one of India's leading owner-trainers, Tegbir Brar, on a nine-week contact in June and July.
O’Shea's long and distinguished career has spanned 14 different countries and he will soon add a fifteenth when he competes in India.
“I never have been there before. There were a few offers in the pipeline, but I decided to give India a try,” he said. “It will be nice to go there to try new pastures. I plan to travel by the end of May, and nine weeks in India will keep me busy throughout the summer and then get back fit and ready for the 2023-2024 UAE season starting in October."
Now that the UAE season has ended, O’Shea will spend two weeks riding in Qatar before returning to Dubai where he will spend a couple of weeks, then head home to Ireland to "recharge the batteries" ahead of his India journey.
O’Shea said none of his success in the UAE would have been possible without the support of his wife Debbie and two children Darragh and Aaron, as well as his main patrons Khalid Khalifa Al Naboodah, trainers Ernst Oertel and Bhupat Seemar, and the Zabeel Stables.
He also expressed his gratitude to the late Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid for providing him the opportunity to ride in the UAE.
“The scholarship that he offered for the champion apprentice in Ireland in 2001 opened the doors to my future and all the wonderful opportunities that the UAE had to offer a young jockey,” O'Shea said.