From Blackrock, County Dublin, Sean Kirrane rode his first winner on the Johnny Levins-trained Bainne in an apprentice handicap at the Curragh racecourse on Saturday, May 13th, 2017. Kirrane came to England from Ireland in October 2018 – The meticulous young rider has recently moved up north from Newmarket to David O’Meara’s who he will be apprentice to this season. Big opportunity, lots of good horses, things are undoubtedly looking up for this Blackrock native. We had the pleasure of having a chat with Sean recently.
How did you get interested in racing?
My interest in horses came from an incredibly early age, I have been riding since I was about three years old. I always had a love for the animal, although none of my family were interested in horses or racing. My interest in racing has been there since I first sat on a horse. Ever since I knew what a jockey was, I knew that is what I wanted to do. I have been a fan of racing since then. I can remember following horses such as best mate when I was only 4 years old. When I was 15, I got the opportunity to spend a few weeks in a summer riding out for Willie Mullins, to learn about racing and learn how to ride a racehorse. It was a terrific place to learn the trade.
Who gave you your first helping hand in racing?
When I was 16, I joined Johnny Levins on the Curragh. Himself and Donagh O’Connor were a substantial help to me and taught me so much. When I was 17, I got my apprentice license out with Johnny while I was still in school doing my leaving Certificate. Johnny was exceptionally good to me and gave me a few winners in Ireland. At the back end of the 2018 season I thought that England would help me expand my career because of the amount of opportunities available to apprentices, with there being so much racing.
“My agent at the time, Kevin O’Ryan, and Johnny helped me secure the chance to go and work for Richard Spencer who offered me a job in September of 2018, and I moved to Newmarket in October of that year”.
2019 was a great year for you, finishing up on 20 winners. Tell us about the experience?
I was incredibly lucky to have some great supporters behind me last year. Richard Spencer helped me immensely with every aspect of my riding. He has some very experienced staff who would always help me out and has Michael Hills riding work for him every Saturday, who was my jockey coach. Riding work Michael was a great help to me, every bit of advice he gave me was invaluable. When I started with Mr Spencer, I joined Paul Clarke, who presently books my rides. Paul has been a vital part of my career so far. He put me in contact with some great stables who supported me last year such as Julia Feilden, Amy Murphy, Marc Loughnane, and Saeed Bin Suroor, who I was lucky enough to ride a winner for on my first ride for Godolophin before I moved to Dubai in November, where the stable were kind enough to use me again.
You were based with Satish Seemar in Dubai, who is renowned for helping apprentices. How did you find riding in Dubai?
Riding in Dubai was a bit of a learning curve for me. They race on the dirt out there at some tracks, a surface we do not have in the UK. Dirt racing and turf racing are quite different, on the dirt there is a lot of emphasis on speed, gate speed and early positioning are particularly important. You have to be conscious of how fast you are going in the early part of a race. This is something I learned Riding out for Mr Seemar, as much if not more than I did Riding in races, as all the work in his yard is done off the clock. It was easy to lean this riding work with the likes of Richard Mullen and Tadhg O’Shea who are masters of the trade out in Dubai. Having a clock in your head is important in any race and is definitely the most valuable skill I have learned so far.
When racing resumes, do you expect 2020 to be a good year for you?
It is hard to predict what will happen for apprentices this year. When racing resumes there will only be senior jockeys riding, with no current indication of when apprentices will be permitted to ride again. In my last couple of months in Dubai, David O’Meara’s Assistant Trainer Jason Kelly approached my agent Paul Clarke and let him know that they’d seen me ride, and that there would be an opportunity for me to be apprentice to Mr O’Meara if I wanted it. It was a privilege to be offered this and I jumped at the opportunity. The Boss has plenty of horses this year.
“I’m fit and ready for racing to resume and I certainly fancy my chances of equalling last year’s tally”
Most Memorable moment so far?
My most memorable moment so far was probably Riding my first winner at Meydan in February aboard a horse called Speedy Move for Mr Seemar.
It was a special day because it was a class 2 handicap my family had come to Dubai that week to visit, and obviously Riding any winner at a track as prestigious as Meydan is something extraordinary.
Do you still get nervous before a race?
I think most jockeys would be lying if they said they don’t feel nerves before a big race or an important ride. I wouldn’t say I get nervous, but I definitely feel sharp and ready to do the job before I get on a horse with a good chance in a big race.
How do you unwind when not in the saddle?
It can be hard to get away from racing, you have to be obsessed to a degree, but I enjoy exercise and keeping fit. I do a lot of running and it definitely keeps my mind off it and helps me unwind.
Give us two horses to follow?
I was lucky enough to ride Gladiator King in a few bits of work for Mr Seemar out in Dubai. He has proven he is a class horse by winning 2 group 3s in the 2019/20 and would definitely be a group 1 prospect next season. 2. Rumbleinthejungle is a horse that I know from when he was trained by Richard Spencer and is now with us at David O’Meara’s. He is a somewhat lightly raced horse who has proven himself at group level and should be progressive this year.