Tadhg O’Shea seeks Dubai World Cup glory on Laurel River

The 11-time UAE champion jockey features in five of the nine races during showpiece event this week

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As the UAE's all-time leading rider with 777 winners and an unprecedented 11 championship titles, Tadhg O’Shea will be aiming to cap a stellar career by clinching victory at the Dubai World Cup.

The Irishman has landed a plum ride in the $12 million Group 1 race atop the Bhupat Seemar-trained Laurel River.

His four other rides on the night are Tuz in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen, Killer Collect in the Group 2 UAE Derby, Walk Of Stars in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile, all for Seemar, and Ernst Oertel’s Purebred Arabian AF Alwajel in the Group 1 Dubai Kahayla Classic.

However, the Dubai World Cup, which takes place on Saturday, is where the focus will be.

O’Shea rode Remorse in the last two Dubai World Cups, finishing sixth and ninth behind the American raider Country Grammar and Japan’s Ushba Tesoro respectively. With Laurel River, he may have found a willing partner to get closer to his dream.

Laurel River was impressive when winning the Group 3 Burj Nahar on Super Saturday, the Dubai World Cup dress rehearsal, on March 2. His Saudi Arabian owners Juddmonte Farms were impressed by that victory and opted to go for the main prize after that success guaranteed a spot in the Godolphin Mile.

The home bred six-year-old son of Into Mischief hasn’t run beyond the 1,600-metre trip but O’Shea is confident he can handle the step up in distance.

“He's done very well in the Burj Nahar and I'm really looking forward to carrying on our association together in the Dubai World Cup,” O’Shea told The National.

“His pedigree suggests that he’ll stretch out the distance (2,000m). He’s a high-class horse and it’s just a pleasure to be associated with him and the new and famous owners to the Zabeel Stables.”

Laurel River returned to the racetrack after a lengthy 516-day lay-off for his first run at Meydan in a 1,200m sprint in January. He was unplaced in that occasion but his next run over the mile trip at Burj Nahar proved his mettle.

Drawn wide in gate number 14 in the 16-runner field, Laurel River led after 400m and came home an easy six and three-quarter lengths winner over Qareeb. Prior to that, he had won three on the trot, a Group 3 and two Listed prizes, and placed third in his racecourse debut in his native America.

“He has come after a long absence, joining Zabeel in December. He was always in our books. He needed the first run and then we saw the real Laurel River next time in the Burj Nahar," O'Shea said.

“It's amazing when you get him back on track and get him out of the race healthy and well. I rode him yesterday (Monday) morning and fingers crossed he's in tremendous shape.

“He looks amazing and he is a high class horse to be associated with. I like this horse and if he can reproduce that run or even improve off it, hopefully he’ll give me very good ride.”

O’Shea won the Golden Shaheen atop Switzerland in 2022 and was denied the prize in a photo finish with Sibelius 12 months ago.

He rides Tuz in the dirt sprint. The Oxbow gelding won the Group 3 Dubawi Stakes at Meydan on January 5 before being unplaced behind Remake in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint in the Saudi Cup meeting on February 24.

“Tuz has come off a disappointing effort in Saudi,” O’Shea said. “The track didn't suit him there. It was quite a deep track. But he'll be happier back in Meydan, his familiar playground. If he can reproduce what he’s done when he won before he went to Saudi, he'll give me a very good ride.”

Killer Collect in the UAE Derby has won twice in four starts and finished second and third in the other two.

“He’s a lovely horse. He's got some strength,” O’Shea said of the Collected colt.

“He ran third first time out and then won his maiden. And a little bit unlucky not to follow up in the (UAE 2000) Guineas where he misbehaved in the start and gave away ground.

“He still ran a gallant race to finish second (behind stablemate Mendelssohn). He then put that right and won the Al Bastakiya (the traditional UAE Derby trial). So, he's got experience.”

O’Shea is atop Walk Of Stars in the Godolphin Mile. He had a good run last time in the Maktoum Classic Round-3, the traditional Dubai World Cup trial, going down to Military Law by a length.

“It's only his third run on dirt. He was a mile and a quarter, mile and a half in the UK for his previous connections,” O’Shea said of the five-year-old Dubawi gelding.

“We've campaigned him accordingly and obviously we think the mile, a true run mile will play to his strengths.”

O’Shea partners AF Alwajel in the Dubai Kahayla Classic, the traditional opener and Arabian showpiece on the Dubai World Cup night. It’s a race O’Shea won on AF Maher in 2019.

AF Alwajel was runner up behind Deryan in 2021. Now nine, he showed he hasn’t lost any of his zest for racing when finishing runner up to Suny De Loup by a short head in the Al Maktoum Challenge on Super Saturday.

“He also came from a long layoff and ran a cracking race last time out,” the UAE champion jockey said.

“He’s a real favourite of mine and obviously has finished second in the Kahayla in the past and picked up an injury in that race. He was off for over a year but looking forward for a big run on him.”

O’Shea leads the UAE jockey’s title race with 47 winners, five more than his closest challenger Connor Beasley, who missed the last two meetings at the weekend to reunite with his stables back home in the UK for the start of the English flat racing season.

O’Shea was 16 behind Beasley in January but has since charged ahead of his rival.

“Connor got off to a flying start and I was slow off the blocks,” the champion jockey said.

“We have both been very consistent throughout the season. I was 16 behind him on the first of January. At that stage, I was looking at a top four finish and that would have been good.

“I have won plenty of championship titles in the past but I have never come from 16 behind to get to the front. We'll try and keep it going now, and if we can get a few winners for the next couple of weeks (the World Cup followed by the last two meetings at Abu Dhabi and Al Ain), they all count.”

O’Shea has made the UAE his main goal and like every season, was back at work in October.

“I start work from the first of October every season and it’s always the aim to get a few rides on the World Cup night and hopefully have some very good rides,” O’Shea said.

“The DWC meeting is the pinnacle of our season. It’s an amazing meeting in which the everyone comes together in a fantastic vision from his highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, to have this truly world stage event.”

Updated: March 29, 2024, 9:42 AM