Donn's Articles » Shane Shortall

Shane Shortall

It was on Saturday morning when he went to work that Shane Shortall found out that he would be riding Road To Riches in Wednesday’s Galway Plate.

Road To Riches had actually been Ger Fox’s ride. Then at Wexford on the Friday before Galway, Fox had a fall and broke his collarbone. That’s National Hunt racing for you.

Shortall hoped that there was a chance that he might get the call up for the ride, but he tried not to think about it too much. He thought that owners Gigginstown House and trainer Noel Meade might want to stick with a claiming rider and, if they did, he had a chance.

As it turned out, Noel Meade phoned Shortall’s boss Tony Martin on Friday night to ask him about his young rider. The more Martin spoke about Shortall, the more Meade was convinced that he was the right man for his horse.

When he found out that he had the ride, Shortall phoned Ger Fox to let him know. It was the first thing he did. Fox was delighted for his colleague, even if he did struggle to hide his own frustration.

“You’ll ride a Galway Plate winner this week,” Fox told him.

Shortall was suspended on Monday and Tuesday, so he didn’t go to Galway on the first two days. He had bits and pieces to do around the yard anyway, so it suited him not to travel. Wednesday was a big day though. As well as Road To Riches in the Plate, he had two other rides, Supreme Vic for Norman Lee in the mares’ handicap hurdle, and Greatness for his boss Tony Martin in the handicap hurdle.

He finished second on Supreme Vic, then he went out on Greatness in the handicap hurdle and won, surviving a fairly serious error at the second last flight before powering over the last and up the hill to catch Golden Ticket and AP McCoy right on the line.

“Even after jumping the last,” recalls the young rider, “I still only thought that we had a small chance of being placed. But when my horse hit the hill, he really picked up, and I could see that the horse in front was stopping. But it was some thrill to get up on the line like that.”

That could have been it for the day, it could have been it for the week. At the start of the week, Shortall was just delighted to have some good rides, and he was hopeful that they would all run well. A winner would be a bonus. Anything more would be dreamland.

That said, when you ride a winner, your confidence surges, and you go out for your next ride on the crest of the wave that it has generated. He put on the famous maroon silks and made his way out to the parade ring before the Plate. Eddie O’Leary of Gigginstown House and Noel Meade were united on tactics. Plan A was to try to make the running. If Plan A didn’t work, adopt Plan B, which hadn’t been formulated as yet. The main thing was to get racing room for the horse. He doesn’t like being harried, make sure he has light.

Road To Riches kicked off just behind the leaders towards the outside, plenty of light. At the third fence, Shortall gave him a squeeze, he joined Lord Ben in front and he had moved on into the lead by the time they reached the fourth. After that, he never saw a rival.

“I was always very happy with the way he was travelling,” says Shane. “He was always on the bridle. I just left it up to him. I was just a passenger on him really, I just let him do his own thing. He was so good, and he probably knows far more about racing than I do.”

The people who know about these things will tell you that the most difficult thing to do on a horse is nothing. Shane Shortall is 22 years old, he has ridden just 16 winners in his life, yet he had the knowledge and the confidence to sit still on his horse, leading the field in the Galway Plate. His is a thinking head on a young body, and he is massive value for his 7lb claim.

From Castledaly, just outside Moate in County Westmeath, Shortall learned how to ride at the equitation school in Athlone, and he moved to England to join Ian Williams in January 2011. In his first year he had five rides and he won on two of them. After his second winner there, however, the rides dried up and he gave up, disheartened. Twelve months after he had left, he came back home and left racing, figured that it wasn’t for him.

In 2013 he called local trainer Paul Flynn and asked if he could come down and ride out for him. Not as a means of getting back into the game, mind you, but just as a means of earning a wage.

A couple of weeks after he joined him, Flynn told him that there was a job going with Tony Martin, so Shortall went along. If you’re good enough, Martin told him, you will get rides here. If you’re not, you won’t. Straight up. On his fourth day with Martin, he had his first ride.

He rode his first winner for Martin at last year’s Galway Festival, Busted Tycoon in the two-mile handicap, the middle leg of the mare’s Galway hat-trick. Quick Jack in a Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Hurdle at Listowel last September was his second, and Wrong Turn in a Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival was his third. The quality of the horses he was riding told you how highly his boss regarded him.

Going to the second last fence in the Plate on Wednesday, Shortall did not know how far clear he was. He pinged the second last fence, pinged the last and, as he drove Road To Riches away from the fence, he listened for the crack of horse on birch behind him. He listened for the noise to try to determine how close the pursuers were, as you might listen for the thunder after seeing the lightning. But he couldn’t hear it. Nothing.

Even so, he didn’t look around. He didn’t dare. He pushed and kicked his horse around the home turn and up the home straight. Once in the home straight, he was able to look up at the big screen and he could see himself and Road To Riches up there, splendid isolation.

“That was some feeling,” he admits. “To be clear in a Galway Plate like that. He’s some horse. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. I’m so grateful to everyone, to Noel Meade and Gigginstown House for putting me up.”

On Wednesday evening, no mad celebrations, he just took Ger Fox out for dinner. Just the two of them. With Fox’s arm in a sling, he had to cut his steak for him. It was the least he could do.

“You were right,” he told Fox. “I did ride a Galway Plate winner this week.”

© The Sunday Times, 3rd August 2014