Rising star Gavin Sheehan became a jockey despite his family having no association with the sport at-all. His father’s knowledge of horse racing just about stretched to a small each-way flutter on the Grand National each year and his mother was totally against his career choice at the beginning.
The young lad from Cork fell in love with horses whilst watching old westerns on the television at his family home and yearned to learn the tricks performed by the cowboys. He pestered his parents to buy him a horse and they eventually obliged, by buying him one of the rocking variety. This was soon upgraded into a pony called ‘Star’ one Christmas and the young Sheehan began learning the art of riding.
Sheehan learned all about balance in the saddle whilst competing in donkey derbies and followed that up by riding 60 winners in the competitive world of pony racing. After that, he joined Limerick based trainer Michael Hourigan as an amateur.
Things didn’t quite go to plan with Hourigan and an 18-year-old Sheehan packed his bags in 2011 and headed to England. With advice from experienced jockey Noel Fehily, he joined Charlie Mann at Lambourn Stables in Berkshire and that is where his education into the world of horse racing really started.
As well as being given the opportunity to ride winners, he also learned the importance of a hard work ethic. That came with Mann tasking the youngster to carry out jobs such as de-weeding the gallops and general skivvying duties around the yard.
Whilst employed by Mann, Sheehan rode 50 winners in 2013/14 and was named champion conditional jockey for that season. Unfortunately, the number of rides with Mann weren’t what the young jockey was hoping for so he decided to spread his wings once more.
Moving to the historic Uplands Stables in Upper Lambourn, the highly ambitious Sheehan joined forced with Warren Greatrex. Although Greatrex was relatively young as far as trainers go, he was building a young and promising operation that would allow Sheehan to blossom.
March 2015 saw Sheehan burst into the spotlight and show the racing world he was a talented jockey with high aspirations. He rode both his first Grade One and Cheltenham Festival winner when he guided the Greatrex trained 14/1 shot ‘Cole Harden’ to victory in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
He rode in his first Grand National a month later, finishing seventh aboard the 13-year-old, 33/1 shot, ‘Tranquil Sea’. He didn’t get the chance to ride in the 2016 race but there will be plenty more opportunities for Sheehan to make his mark at Aintree.
That season proved his most successful to date, as he finished 2014/15 with 73 winners and overall prize money of £699,665, with over £500,000 of that coming in win prizes.
Perhaps his most successful day as a jockey came at Newbury on 28th November 2015. He rode ‘Tea in Transvaal’, ‘Aloomomo’ and ‘Royal Guardsman’ to a 494/1 treble on a Hennessy Gold Cup day he will likely never forget.
That was part of a 2015/16 season that saw him ride one less winner than the season before but surpass his overall prize winnings. He earned total prize money of £747,679. As well as his 72 winners, he also rode 64 second places and 51 third places as he boosted his reputation considerably.
April 2016 was a brilliant month for Sheehan, as he added more Grade One success to his name. On the 7th April he rode ‘Arzal’ to victory in the Merseyrail Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree, beating ‘L’ami Serge’ by eight lengths. He followed that up in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown at the end of the month, with a two and a quarter length victory on the front running 10/1 shot ‘One Track Mind’.
The 2016/17 season has started off quite well for Sheehan, with five winners and ten placed finishes from 32 rides so far. His main aim for this season is to surpass his previous amount of winners in a single campaign, which currently stands at 73, whilst also picking up more valuable experience.
Gavin Sheehan is only 23-years-old but is already showing signs that he could become one of the best jockeys of his generation. Obviously, a jump jockey cannot take anything for granted but his undoubted talent, work ethic and ambition stand him in good stead for the future.
If he continues to progress as he is doing, it shouldn’t be long before Sheehan is surpassing 100 winners and total prize money of over £1million in a single season for the first time.