Cork jockey Gavin Sheehan arrives on big stage with Cheltenham World Hurdle win

It’s four years since Gavin Sheehan left Ireland to try his hand abroad and yesterday’s triumph in the World Hurdle on Cole Harden is proof that the grass can actually be greener on the other side, writes Brendan O’Brien.

Cork jockey Gavin Sheehan arrives on big stage with Cheltenham World Hurdle win

The Dunmanway, Co Cork jockey was only 18 when he made the plunge. Life as an amateur rider with Michael Hourigan in Limerick had taught him plenty, but the youngster’s hunger wasn’t being fully sated.

The relationship with Hourigan didn’t fully “click”, he explained.

The trainer put him up on rides, but Sheehan wanted winners and felt he wasn’t getting them. Then a broken shoulder gave him time to think and he put a call through Noel Fehily’s brother, Eamon.

Their answer was to pack bags and make for Charlie Mann’s stables in Lambourn where Noel was stationed.

It was there that Sheehan finally began to get the rides and the winners he craved, in between gardening chores and other odd jobs.

What stood out when talking to the 22-year-old after his maiden Festival win yesterday was his naked ambition and it was ambition that saw him move on again after two years when the numbers of horses and opportunities in Mann’s stables began to dry up.

That prompted the short move to Warren Greatrex’s Upper Lambourn operation.

Greatrex was young by training standards, but he knew his stuff and had assembled a youthful operation around him that has allowed Sheehan to blossom.

The number of horses in the yard has jumped from 40 to 75 this year and the Cork pilot has already surpassed the 44 winners he banked last season as he juggles duties with Greatrex with rides for other trainers across the UK.

Demand for Sheehan, one of a dozen or so Irish jockeys riding for English trainers this week, is likely to peak after yesterday’s effort given he aped AP McCoy 40 minutes earlier by leading from pillar to post with a ride that drew considerable praise.

“He got everything right,” said his trainer.

Owner Jill Eynon touched on the fact that he had such confidence despite his relative lack of experience. Others placed him squarely in the up and coming wolf pack eager to take over the territory soon to be vacated by AP himself.

High praise, indeed.

“It’s my dream to win here,” he said on what is just his second appearance at the Festival though he had won thrice before on the track.

“I had my head down going for home, I didn’t know where the other horses were. I wasn’t going to take a look back.”

He saved that for later.

Once the win was bagged and the presentation done he took the time to reflect on his days as an amateur back home and on the years that led up to that when his love for horse racing was borne in a childhood watching westerns on TV.

The Sheehan house in Dunmanway was one immersed in sport. His father, Seán, instilled a love for GAA and a brother, Alan, whom he spoke to over FaceTime in Australia yesterday morning, played briefly for Cork City.

Young Gavin’s interest in the horses came from left field though and met with some initial resistance from his mum Geraldine and a dad whose knowledge of the sport stretched no further than a “€2.50 each way bet on the Grand National” every year.

Eventually, they caved in and a request for a rocking horse one Christmas delivered a pony. From there he progressed to local pony and donkey races where the likes of Davy Condon and Paul Townend started and on to the path that led to yesterday’s breakthrough win.

Any resistance from his family dissipated a long time ago. His mum and another brother, Keith, were trackside yesterday and his father will travel over to Aintree for the upcoming Grand National where he expects to ride something for Charlie Mann.

A long way from Dunmanway, as he said himself.

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