Donn's Articles » Joey Sheridan

Joey Sheridan walked the track last Saturday morning.  Longchamp, Paris, Arc de Triomphe weekend.  One of the biggest weekends on the European racing calendar.  He had never ridden there.  He had never been there.  Riding Princess Zoe around two and a half miles at Longchamp should take around four and a half minutes, a little longer on the heavy ground.  Lots can happen in that time.  He wanted to crystalise the plan in his head, minimise the variables, figure out where he wanted to be at every stage of the race. 

Then he walked the track again.

It was some chain of events that had got Princess Zoe and her young rider to Longchamp on Arc de Triomphe weekend.  Four months earlier, Joey Sheridan was a just-turned-18-year-old pony-racing graduate, a 7lb-claiming apprentice who had ridden just over 20 winners on the track in his life.  Princess Zoe was a 64-rated mare who had been beaten in her previous 10 races in Germany.  The Prix du Cadran wasn’t even close to any plan for the year that could have been concocted for horse or rider that had its roots in reality.

They were unlikely partners too.  Before Galway last August, Joey Sheridan had never ridden for Tony Mullins.  He had ridden winners for one of Tony’s brothers Tom, and he had won the Irish Cesarewitch on Royal Illusion for one of Tony’s other brothers Willie (a feat that he could repeat today), but he had never ridden for Tony.  He saw Princess Zoe entered in a handicap at Roscommon in early June, so he rang Tony and asked if he could rider her.

“I just saw that there was no jockey down for her,” recalls the young rider, “and I didn’t have a ride in the race.  So I took a chance.  Tony said okay, you can ride her.”

As it happened, Princess Zoe didn’t run in that Roscommon race.  She was in season, so had to be scratched.  But Sheridan charted her progress.  She made her Irish debut at Navan later in June, Shane Foley rode her, and she was a little unlucky in finishing second behind Walking On Glass.  Then she won the Ladies’ Derby at The Curragh under Jody Townend doing handsprings, and she followed up by landing the big amateur riders’ race at the Galway Festival under Finian Maguire.

“Before she won the amateur riders’ race, I saw that she was entered in the one-and-a-half-mile handicap on the Saturday at Galway, so I called Tony again and asked if I could ride her in that.”

They won that race, and dreams and plans were hatched.  Tony Mullins mentioned yesterday’s Cesarewitch at Newmarket as an option after that Galway race, but he also mentioned the Prix du Cadran.  It was high-flying, from a Galway handicap to a Group 1 race in France, but it just shows you, the faith that the trainer had in his mare.  Shared by the rider.

“I thought that she was good,” says Sheridan.  “I’d be lying if I said that I thought then that she would win a Group 1 race, but Galway is a tough place, up the hill on soft ground, and the way that she won.”

There are dizzy highs in this game, but there are also deep lows.  Three days after he had won that handicap on Princess Zoe at Galway, Sheridan was riding Sceptical on the gallops for his boss Denis Hogan, when the horse suffered a fatal injury. 

It was desperate, a top class sprinter in his prime.  It was desperate for the horse’s owners too, for his trainer Denis Hogan, and for his rider.  Sheridan put his head down and worked harder.

The chain continued.  Princess Zoe went back to Galway in September for the Ardilaun Hotel Oyster Stakes.  The Oyster Stakes is a listed race, so Joey Sheridan couldn’t utilise his 5lb claim.

“I would have understood it if they had got a different rider,” says Sheridan thoughtfully.  “I would have been disappointed of course, but I would have understood it.  But Tony has been brilliant to me, and Zoe’s owners Paddy Kehoe and Philomena Crampton.  They are just good people, loyal people.”

The trainer’s and owners’ loyalty was rewarded when Sheridan drove Princess Zoe to an impressive victory.

If she had run in the Cesarewitch next, Sheridan could have been confident that he would keep the ride.  His 5lb claim in a big handicap like that would have been a massive asset.  But the Prix du Cadran is a Group 1 race and, as in the Listed Oyster Stakes, he couldn’t claim.  A listed race was one thing, in Ireland, at Galway, a track at which Sheridan has ridden plenty and at which he had won on Princess Zoe.  A Group 1 race in France though, at Longchamp, a track at which he had never ridden, on Arc de Triomphe weekend, is very different.  It’s climbing Everest without a Sherpa.

Sheridan was driving to the races the week before the Cadran when Tony Mullins called him to tell him that the ride was his.

“I nearly crashed the car!”

And then the planning.  The logistics for starters, the flights, the Covid-19 tests.  And the race planning, where to be in the race, how fast to go, who to track.

“Tony was great, he didn’t complicate things, he left a lot of it up to me.  He gave me lots of confidence.”

Sheridan thought that Alkuin would go forward, and he did, so he tried to keep him in his sights while keeping an eye on Call The Wind, the favourite, his main danger.  With a half a mile to run, he moved into fourth place, with the favourite just ahead of him in third and Alkuin still blazing brightly about eight lengths ahead of him.

“I was always happy with my position.  I moved into second place at the top of the home straight, we had to catch the leader, but he had gone so fast so early, on that heavy ground.”

Slowly and inexorably, they closed.

“I was always confident that we would catch Alkuin, until about 100 yards out, when I just thought for a fraction of a second that we wouldn’t get to him.  But Zoe dug deep.  She was brilliant.  It was some feeling when we got there.  My first Group 1 win.  Relief and ecstasy all rolled into one.”

And the chain was complete.

© The Sunday Times, 11th October 2020