O'Shea to stake his claim

Sheikh Hamdan's No 2 jockey has got his window of opportunity to shine with top rider Hills out of the picture.

Ouqba ridden by Tadhg O'Shea comes home to win the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.
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DUBAI // As he goes into his first winter campaign as the No 2 jockey for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, Tadhg O'Shea knows he has a window of opportunity to really prove himself with the stable's No 1, Richard Hills, not arriving in the country until the new year. "It was important for me to have a good first summer for Sheikh Hamdan," said O'Shea. "Sheikh Hamdan has lots of nice horses and Richard can't be at every meeting.

"I was lucky enough to ride some very good horses and got two nice winners." O'Shea, 27, snapped up the coveted Sheikh Hamdan job when the owner's racing manager, Angus Gold, approached him to step in for the departing Martin Dwyer. "Angus asked me if I would be interested in being Sheikh Hamdan's second jockey and, of course, it took me all of a split second to decide that I was very interested," he said.

The rider had been moderately successful in the familiar navy blue jacket with white epaulets of the Dubai-based owner before his first major achievement as an employee came on one of England's biggest racing stages - June's Royal Ascot meeting. Ouqba, trained by Hills' father Barry, came home first for O'Shea despite disappointing in the Group One 2,000 Guineas at the start of the season. Eventhough the three-year-old appeared to lose focus in the first half of the Group Three Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot, he was driven on by his jockey and, as the finishing post got closer, he reeled in runner-up Deposer to win by half a length.

On that day Hills had opted for Sheikh Hamdan's promising handicap winner Infiraad, also trained by Hills Snr, but the horse never really found his stride and finished last. "To come to Royal Ascot and to ride a winner for Sheikh Hamdan is a day I won't forget for a long time," O'Shea said at the time. A month later, O'Shea once again made racing headlines for Sheikh Hamdan on Finjaan, a runner from Marcus Tregoning's yard, when he claimed the Group Two Lennox Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.

The horse, another unplaced 2,000 Guineas contender, overcame his trainer's bad luck, which saw his yard closed for two months due to an equine illness, to hold off the accomplished sprinter Balthazaar's Gift, trained in the UAE last season by Rod Simpson. It was those two wins that landed him a job with Sheikh Hamdan which now see him entering into friendly competition within the yard with Hills.

"Richard has been very good to me," said the O'Shea, a consistent top-five finisher in the UAE jockeys' championship table. "He has given me plenty of advice when it comes to riding new horses and what he has said has been a massive help to be honest." As O'Shea contemplates the fourth race weekend of the season, at Jebel Ali after the Eid break, he will do so in good spirit after taking an early second-place on the jockeys' championship leaderboard.

It is too early to get over-excited but the rider is pleased with his start. With seven winners, he is just one victory behind Musabah al Muhairi's stable jockey, Wayne Smith. "I know it's important to win but I have to take it one race at a time," said O'Shea, who under the terms of his deal is free to pick up rides for another owner if Sheikh Hamdan is not represented in a contest. "I have been coming to Dubai to ride for seven years and the closest I've got to winning the championship was in the 2007/8 season when I came second by one winner to Ted Durcan.

"Of course I would love to win it, but I'm keeping my focus on what I have to do in each race and doing my best to ride as many winners as possible. If I'm within reach of the championship with a few weeks to go then I'll be very happy and I can focus on that. "It's just great to be in a position to ride these nice horses and obviously the goal is to win races." @Email:stregoning@thenational.ae