CORK’S Gavin Sheehan is confident the horses that helped him enjoy a successful 2019-'20 campaign can take another step forward next season and keep his career on an upward trajectory.
Although the 27-year-old fell four victories short of eclipsing his personal best total of 73 winners, a Cheltenham Festival success aboard Simply The Betts and Grade One triumph on Itchy Feet gave him plenty to smile about.
With both Itchy Feet and Simply The Betts among the rides he can look forward to next term, it is easy to see why Sheehan is excited about the future.
He said: “It’s been a very good season and I had a good few graded successes, while the prize-money was good, as was the strike rate.
“I started off with a good summer and I steadily tipped away and there was not much left behind.
“I rode 70 winners — 73 is my best and with six weeks left I probably would have beaten it, but I know my target for next season. I was lucky enough to ride a few good winners at Saturday meetings this season and hopefully, I can push forward again.”
There may have been no Festival success for Itchy Feet after his early departure in the Marsh Novices’ Chase, but Sheehan believes he can return to the form that saw him capture the Grade One Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown on his previous start.
“Andrew Brooks was keen to get his first Grade One this season and it was a bonus to get it for Olly Murphy as well aboard him at Sandown.
“He never made a mistake around Sandown, but he was just a bit novicey at Cheltenham and he lacked that experience there when they are going that stride quicker.
“I don’t know what route he will go down as I can’t see why he won’t stay three, but has the speed for two. He has plenty of scope, he just needs to brush up on his jumping, but Olly Murphy is a good, young trainer who will get that sorted. “
Rarely will Sheehan have ridden a big-race winner with more potential than Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate hero Simply The Betts, a victory he is confident can be a springboard to bigger and better prizes.
“That was just poetry in motion and I didn’t have to move a muscle on him. The race was easy from where I was and I had the run of the race. He came up the hill well. There is a lot more left in the tank.
“He is a class jumper that, again, has the speed for two, but would stay three. He settled very well and is an athletic horse.
“I think he will have to step up again, but he has the ability to and either him or Itchy Feet could have won the Manifesto over two and a half at Aintree.”
Despite Saint Calvados ending the season with just one victory to his name, his career best effort in defeat behind Min in the Ryanair Chase suggested to Sheehan he could be horse to prosper at the highest level over a longer trip.
“It was probably the best ride I’ve had off him and Harry Whittington had him primed for the day.
“He travelled extremely well and he jumped great. He just missed one which was frustrating. We went in there with a chance, but it didn’t quite work out.
“He might be a bit better stepping up to three miles and he could go the King George route.”
Although Emitom failed to back up his Grade Two success in the Rendlesham Hurdle when finishing fourth in the Stayers’ Hurdle, it was a performance Sheehan believes marked Warren Greatrex’s charge as a future star of the division.
“I don’t think he was at his best in the Stayers’ and I think there is more to come from him. I was happy with the way he jumped, but I thought he would be at his best at the business end and it didn’t work out.
“He is still a young horse that doesn’t have that many miles on the clock and it could be that he is one for the Stayers’ Hurdle in a few years time. I’m quite excited by him. He strengthened up this year and he will again.”
Much of Sheehan’s success this season has been down to his role as first jockey to owners Andrew and Kate Brooks and with the relationship continuing to flourish, he hopes plenty of big days remain ahead.
“Andrew doesn’t go racing too much, but he backs me 110% and shows a lot of faith in me. I have a gentleman’s agreement as first jockey to him and it has been going great.
“He is putting a lot into the game and it is great to see him getting that success and the trainers he has horses with are great to work with.
“He has lot of youngsters for next season, as well as his current horses in training, which is exciting for everyone.”