Racing: O'Shea puts Murtagh's shadow behind him

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The Independent Online

He is not the first Irishman to get on the boat in time of famine, but few of his compatriots would have left such a promising future behind them. Tadgh O'Shea was champion apprentice of Ireland not once, but twice, but then he lost his job to Johnny Murtagh - not once, but twice. Murtagh's return to Ireland cost O'Shea his place first with Mick Halford, and then with Ger Lyons, and by the time he resolved to try his luck here, early last month, few seemed to notice. "I'm having to start from scratch," he said here yesterday. "Nobody knows you, and you have to prove yourself all over again. It certainly makes you hungrier."

He will not starve, however, having found sanctuary with Ryan Moore while looking for a house in the Lambourn area. And he can doubtless take inspiration from his friend's own advance: Moore won the British apprentice title himself only in 2003 but now stands on the threshold of a first senior championship. Once the more parochial trainers identify him as one of those rare jockeys with strength and patience, O'Shea should soon discover this to be a land of opportunity.

"In Ireland there are three or four meetings a week," he said. "Here there are three or four a day. What it boils down to is that if you don't have a job with one of the four or five top yards in Ireland, you're plucking at straws. I served my time with Mick, but when Johnny came back, he had ridden big winners all round the world. Still it came as a bit of a shock, and I was in the gutterhole for a month or so. Maybe I'd rested on my laurels a bit. But it was great linking up with Ger, and we both had our best season last year."

O'Shea rode 37 winners, but then his nemesis showed up at Lyons's door, too. "Johnny's killed the two birds with one stone," grinned O'Shea ruefully. He kept grafting, but by midsummer recognised his career imperceptibly sliding from a groove to a rut. The sense of liberation, once he made his decision, was so immediate that he promptly rode six winners during his last eight days in Ireland.

"People were saying: 'You're flying, you can't leave now!' But it's been a big circle, and by coming when I did, I hope I can make some contacts for next year," he said. "I suppose the thing to do would be to stay on for the all-weather, but I promised Erwan Charpy that I would go back to Dubai this winter and he has been very loyal to me there."

O'Shea has been riding out for Mick Channon, Brian Meehan and Paul Blockley, and the fact that he can ride at 8st 2lb will open other doors. Every day brings fresh stimulation, as he samples new courses all round the country. Watching him ride a winner around the tricky turns at Chester last month - one of 10 since his arrival - he looked like an old hand.

"The tracks are much better over here," he said. "In Ireland they tend to be much tighter and it's a case of getting to the rail at all costs. But after flying for a furlong and a half they pull up in front and kill the ones in behind. Here the races are more truly run and it's easier to ride a race."

Last week O'Shea returned to the Curragh with Blockley and for half an hour they were working out their percentage of the €500,000 (£350,000) due to Wait Watcher after she passed the post first in the Goffs fillies' race. After a pitiless delay, however, the stewards decided to reverse placings with the runner-up, who had been baulked. "It was an expensive half hour," O'Shea grimaced. "I thought I might get a suspension, but there's no doubt in my mind she was the best filly. At home she jams on the brakes when she gets to the front, yet she won by a length and a quarter."

At 24, O'Shea remains young enough to learn from such setbacks. And the rider who has been his role model throughout has long been urging him towards Britain. "Mick Kinane has been great to me," he said. "If something is niggling my mind, I can always go to him. And he has always told me I'd be mad not to come here.

"Since I first started, he's the one I've looked up to. Because he just hates finishing second. And the same goes for me. All I want to do is ride as many winners as I can."

O'Donohoe banned

Daragh O'Donohoe was suspended for 28 days by the stewards at Nottingham for his riding of Krikket in the opening maiden fillies' stakes. William Haggas's two-year-old was sent off at 40-1 and finished seventh, beaten five and three-quarter lengths.

Haggas was fined £5,000 and the horse, who had finished no better than ninth on her two previous runs, was banned for 40 days.

The Newmarket trainer was handed a further £275 on top of that fine after the stewards ruled he had failed to aquatint his representative with the instructions given to O'Donohoe.

Chris McGrath

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