Doheny pride as Sheehan crowned champion conditional jockey in UK

National Hunt racing is a notoriously tough game to make a name for oneself, but Gavin Sheehan has been doing just that.

Doheny pride as Sheehan  crowned champion conditional jockey in UK

The 21-year-old from Dunmanway in West Cork will today be crowned UK champion conditional with 49 winners to his name this season.

He is currently attached to the yard of Lambourn handler Warren Greatrex who is based in the historic stables which were once occupied by renowned jockey and trainer Fred Winter.

However the young Sheehan has managed to grasp a foothold with other jumps trainers and has ridden winners for Oliver Sherwood, Emma Lavelle and the Grand National winning Dr. Richard Newland amongst others.

The jockey hails from an accomplished sporting family and says when growing up his parents Sean and Geraldine encouraged himself and his three brothers to “get involved in everything”.

His brother Alan played with Cork city FC for a time, however it was watching Western movies and ‘wanting to do all the tricks’ which led to a request for a rocking horse from Santa. His parents went a step further and purchased a pony.

Following on from the new arrival, he bought and broke in a donkey ‘by reading a book and asking people how to do it’ and travelled to donkey derbies where the bug set in thick and fast.

Pony-racing was the obvious next step and he was lucky to come into contact with a local syndicate who were hugely involved in the circuit. Sheehan experienced a huge level of success over a three year period piloting 18 winners in his first season and being crowned champion jockey the following year.

He rode alongside others whose names will be familiar to racing enthusiasts such as Danny Mullins, Adrian Heskin and Oisin Murphy and is full of praise for the game. “What it teaches you is immense, it brings you on as a rider so much. You learn basically how to race-ride; all about balance, how to keep a position in a race and how to push out in a finish.”

A stint as an amateur in Limerick with Michael Hourigan and with North Cork trainer John Murphy led to an unfortunate point-to-point fall and a dislocated shoulder.

A reflection period ensued where he decided to make the break and travel across the water. ‘‘It’s very tough back home and England is obviously a bigger market, I just felt there may be more opportunities. I asked (fellow Dunmanway jockey) Noel Fehily for some pointers and an opening had come up in Charlie Mann’s stable for a conditional jockey.

“Charlie was very good to me and I settled in straight away. I had seven winners in my first season and 24 in my second so I knew then that I had made the right decision’’

He nominates elder statesman Fehily as one of his idols in the weigh-room and it seems to be very much a case of the Rebel jockeys sticking together as Inishannon native Aidan Coleman is also named as someone he turns to if seeking counsel.

“Aidan and Noel are both great for giving me advice. If I was ever having any problem getting a horse jumping or with a scenario in a race, I would pick both their brains, they would often have very differing viewpoints and I would listen to both and then decide what the best course of action ‘’

The rider waxes lyrical about his current boss Warren Greatrex, who poached him after consistently being impressed with his riding skills. Indeed the fledgling jockey and the up and coming trainer sound like the ideal marriage “It has worked out well, he promised me a lot when I took the job — some of it I didn’t believe but all of it has come true and more with it.

“Charlie Mann was getting a bit quieter and had gone down in numbers and I wanted a bigger stable.

“Warren is a young trainer but it’s almost like dealing with someone who has been in the game for 40 years, the way he goes about his business, he is so professional. He doesn’t complicate things and is very easy to deal with.

“There is a nice vibe inside the yard, everybody is great to work with and it’s a pleasure to get up in the morning and look forward to riding out. Warren has had 43 winners this season and is definitely on the up.’’

For the punters out there a horse by Flemensforth called One Track Mind is nominated as potentially a future Gold Cup horse while Ma Du Fu could develop into Champion Hurdle material. Remember you read it here first. The pair won bumpers in great style at Wetherby last week. ‘‘They were both really impressive and would definitely be our two to look out for. They will go the novice hurdle route next season but One Track Mind is certainly a three mile chaser in the making ’’

More in this section


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox