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Dublin: 11°C Sunday 18 April 2021
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17-year-old Sheridan still pinching himself after seizing his big opportunity at the Curragh

The talented apprentice jockey had a landmark win on the Willie Mullins-trained Royal Illusion, writes Donn McClean.

Royal Illusion and connections, including jockey Joey Sheridan and trainer Willie Mullins.
Royal Illusion and connections, including jockey Joey Sheridan and trainer Willie Mullins.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

JOEY SHERIDAN DIDN’T know until last Friday morning that he would be riding Royal Illusion in the Tote Irish Cesarewitch at the Curragh on Sunday.

It was only on Friday morning that he saw the declarations: Royal Illusion – W P Mullins – J M Sheridan.

“I couldn’t believe it,” says the young rider. “Really. To be riding a horse with a chance in a big race like that, and to be riding for Willie Mullins. I was pinching myself.”

He had never ridden for Willie Mullins before, and he thought about the Irish Cesarewitch all weekend. He was at Dundalk on Friday evening and he was at Limerick on Saturday, where he rode a winner for Tom Mullins, Miss Myers in the opening two-year-olds’ auction maiden. That’s four winners from 10 rides for Tom Mullins. And still he thought about Sunday.

He studied the race, as he always does. Who the main dangers were, who would go forward, who would drop in. And he studied Royal Illusion’s form.

“With my 7lb claim, she was only going to have 8st 5lb on her back. And when you are riding in a big race for Willie Mullins, you know that you are always going to have a chance.”

Instructions were simple: get her settled, in the first eight or nine if you can, and plan your race from there. But, as a rider, you have to adapt as situations change. It was a tape start, no stalls, and Royal Illusion was further back early on than Sheridan had intended. Actually, she only had three of her 17 rivals behind her after they had gone a furlong.

I have plenty of experience of starts without stalls from my pony racing days, but it didn’t exactly go to plan. I was happy enough though, we were fairly clipping along on the soft ground, so it was no harm to be a little bit back in the field.”

The rider allowed his mare make her ground around the outside from the five-furlong marker.

“I was delighted with how she was travelling. I had Rock De Baune ahead of me, and she had finished second to him at Listowel, so I was happy to track him into the home straight. I was going so well though, I was afraid that we would hit the front too early.”

They straightened up for home, and Royal Illusion moved easily into the front rank on the run to the two-furlong pole.

“I had a look around, we were still on the bridle and everyone else was pushing away. I couldn’t believe how well we were travelling. Then when I went for her, she picked up very well. The distance she was able to put between us and the rest of the field. I was looking up at the big screen, but nothing was getting near us. I was able to really enjoy to last 100 yards. It was some feeling.”

Royal Illusion and Joey Sheridan came clear. One of the most competitive staying handicaps on the Irish racing calendar, and they won it by eight and a half lengths. It was a big win, a big day for Royal Illusion, a big win for Joey Sheridan. The biggest of his career so far.

“I’m just so grateful to everybody for giving me the opportunity. To Mr Mullins and to Ballylinch Stud. It’s amazing to ride for big owners like that too. And to my agent Ruaidhri Tierney.”

joey-sheridan-wins-the-tote-irish-cesarewitch-on-royal-illusion Royal Illusion winning the Tote Irish Cesarewitch. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Joey Sheridan was always going to be a jockey. From a family of riders, he was always into horses and into racing, and he started pony racing when he was 12, where he rode over 50 winners. He started going in to local trainer Stephen Ryan, then went into David Wachman for a summer.

“Mr Wachman is only 15 minutes down the road from me at home, and it was great to get the opportunity there. When he retired, he got me into Ballydoyle, and that was brilliant. Mr O’Brien was very good to me, and it was unbelievable, the horses there, the riders there. I learned so much.”

After that, all he wanted to do was take out his apprenticeship, and Denis Hogan gave him the opportunity.

“It was Liam Healy and Steven Ryder who put me in touch with Denis, and he has been brilliant to me from day one. He has plenty of horses, he’s doing so well, and he had no hesitation in putting me up as soon as I had my licence.”

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All the while, the young rider honed his talent. Eastern Racer, in a claiming race at Dundalk in April, was his first winner. Royal Illusion, in the Irish Cesarewitch at The Curragh on Sunday, was his 16th. He still claims 7lb, and he is massive value for that.

My intention is to keep riding away to the end of the season, keep my head down, keep learning, keep getting as many rides as I can, keep riding as many winners as I can. I think that Denis is keen that I protect my claim during the winter though. Take a pull. Mind my winners. Denis has so much experience, I’m always happy to take his advice.”

It’s sage advice. An apprentice’s claim is a big asset. It’s one of the things that differentiates you from the top riders. It’s an added incentive for trainers and owners to put you up. If you burn through your claim quickly, suddenly you are competing with the top riders on level terms.

But if you take your time, use your claim strategically, you build up your experience, establish your name, and you are well able to hold your own with the best by the time that you lose your claim.

Joey Sheridan has the talent all right, and he is establishing his name. He is working hard too. He is in Denis Hogan’s every day. He was in early on Monday morning, as usual, an Irish Cesarewitch in the bag.

“I’m still pinching myself.”

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About the author:

Donn McClean

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