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Sunday 11 December 2016

Going flat out for glory in the saddle

Sean Davis is a jockey with a bright future under the guidance of emerging trainer Michael O'Callaghan

Siobhan English

Published 09/03/2016 | 02:30

Grooming is all in a day's work for young apprentice Sean Davis.
Grooming is all in a day's work for young apprentice Sean Davis.
Sean Davis in action at Dundalk Racecourse on Intifadah, trained by his employer Michael O'Callaghan.
Trainer Michael O'Callaghan

It's just after 7am and Sean Davis is all geared up for another busy day at Crotanstown House on the Curragh. It's buzzing at Michael O'Callaghan's yard - home to some 50 horses being prepared for the upcoming flat season - and this talented young man is right in the thick of this fledgling enterprise which saddled some 15 winners in 2015.

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A graduate of the Racing Academy (RACE) last summer, it appears that the 17-year-old has, quite clearly, landed on his feet as an apprentice jockey to one of the most talked-about young trainers of the racing world.

At just 27, and in only his second full season as a licensed trainer, Kerry-born Michael O'Callaghan (pictured right) sent out his first Group winner, Blue De Vega, last October.

"I was very fortunate when Michael agreed to keep me on after my work placement last year. It is great that he is now giving me a chance to prove myself," Maynooth-born Sean said as he went about his early morning duties.

As a rookie in a fast- growing yard, there's little time for idle chat and he is quickly legged up for the first lot of the day.

It's a two-year-old colt by Kodiac, one of several as yet unnamed youngsters being primed for the 2016 Irish flat season which kicks off with the Lincolnshire meeting at the Curragh on March 20.

It is not surprising that Sean remembers with fondness his first ride up the very same track last October. "It was on a filly called Maknificent," he recalls. "She was actually 4/1 favourite and although she finished third, ran well. I was delighted and my parents Paul and Liz were there too to see it.

"I'd only ridden in my first ever race on the track the day before in Limerick and was down the field on a horse called Bob's The Business."

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As a teenager with no racing background, Sean has come a long way in a few years since getting his start in the sport with John Geoghegan at the age of 13. "I hung around with my cousin Greg Maguire who works in horses, and also spent a lot of time with Sean Mahon and both he and his wife Noeleen were very good to me too before I went into RACE."

Sean admits that the 42-week course gave him a great grounding for the sport, but nothing compares to actually getting out there and working in a yard full-time.

"I really enjoyed my time at RACE and all the instructors, especially Barry Walsh, were very good to me. But I learnt a lot in my first few months with Michael. I had never ridden yearlings before and got some right falls, but it certainly taught me how to ride them."

Nowadays Sean rides five lots a day without a thought, and many of those are now two-year-olds who have not yet seen the track. "It's great when you get a chance to ride these youngsters everyday and see their potential," he said of another colt, this one by Kyllachy. "This guy has a great attitude," he admits.

With the yard right in the heart of the Curragh, Sean was introduced to the famous Old Vic gallops right from the start and remembers some of the more eventful moments back then.

Fitness

"When I went into RACE I was just five and a half stone. When I arrived here I was just half a stone heavier, and probably a little too weak, so at the start horses were running way with me."

It is thanks to his mentor and employee that Sean has a very different attitude to his fitness and health this year.

"Michael sent me to the former jockey Gordon Power to do some training on the simulator, and I still do that regularly. Gordon is now a qualified instructor so it's a great help.

"I've also now learnt that I don't need to starve myself, and to concentrate on building up muscle rather than fat.

"It was great to get the opportunity to get in a good few rides in Dundalk over the winter and build on that. I was able to ride some very nice horses and get more experience before the season on grass gets going again."

Among his favourites in the yard is the six-year-old mare Bainne, winner of a handicap at the Curragh last June. "She can be strong too, but she's a lovely mare to ride."

On that occasion she was ridden to victory by stable jockey Shane Kelly, but Sean is hopeful that 2016 will be his year to be led into the winner's enclosure for the first time.

"It's tough when you haven't ridden a winner so I am really going to work towards that. Owners want a jockey who has proven himself.

"I look at other young jockeys like Killian Leonard who won a lot in pony racing and are now doing really well and getting good rides after winning on the track."

As for his plans long-term, Sean is content to remain at Crotanstown House for the time being. "It's a lovely place to work and a yard that's really going places so it's great to be involved."

Michael O'Callaghan is also positive about Sean Davis making a name for himself in the not too distant future. "Sean has the hunger and brains to make it work. He is also a natural lightweight. In fact he ticks a lot of boxes and just needs the chances now."

With Crotanstown House having previously been home to a dozen Classic winners over the years - including Double Arch, Hill Song and Paveh.

Let's hope that 2016 will bring that number to 13, with Sean Davis headlining the next chapter of this great success story.

Indo Farming



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