John O'Shea: 'Cheltenham is the Champions League of racing'
Ever since he had the job of checking his grandfather’s dockets after a days racing at the Curragh, Irish international footballer John O’Shea has had a keen interest in the sport of horse racing.
After being introduced to horse ownership by his former Manchester United teammate Paul Scholes, he now has the dream of one day owning a big race winner at the likes of the Cheltenham Festival.
“After we won the Champions League Final in Moscow in 2008, Scholesy initially had a contact with a trainer called Eoghan O’Neill so we got a horse off him and called him Moscow Eight and that would have been the first proper horse I was involved in,” O’Shea told the Herald.
“You need a bit of luck sometimes and I got a few lads off the Irish team involved in St Devote with Eoin Griffin and he was a very decent animal for us winning on the flat, over hurdles and over fences.”
Bank Bonus with Eoin Griffin and Top Of The Glas, trained by Brian Ellison, are two nice horses O’Shea is currently involved with but as he looks forward to them progressing in the future, for now he is looking ahead to next week and enjoying the spectacle that Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle promises to be.
“Of the horses running next week, it’ll be Jezki in particular that I’m most interested in seeing. I just think, when you look at how he performed last year, that once the ground firms up that little bit I think he has got to run well,” O’Shea suggested.
“Our kitman here at Sunderland, John Cooke, he’d be big into the horses and there would be a bit of craic with him over the week with the Irish and the English horses and he really fancies The New One for the Champion Hurdle and I can’t wait to see Faugheen in the same race.
“For a horse to be that price for the Champion Hurdle, obviously he (Faugheen) is a very good horse and connections obviously think he is very, very special and I suppose if this was Leopardstown everyone would be backing Hurricane Fly but it’ll be nice for AP (McCoy) to sign off with a big Cheltenham winner.”
Turning to some of the other horses catching his eye, the Waterford native added: “Champagne Fever is a horse with a great record at Cheltenham and if he runs in the Champion Chase I think he has to have a good chance.
“The Gold Cup seems to be one of those races where it boils down to if Silviniaco Conti can produce at this time of year. Some people seem to think he suffers. If you look at Djakadam and how he performed when winning at Gowran and how well fancied he was in the Hennessy at Newbury, they really think he’s very good and you have McCoy on Carlingford Lough and Noel Meade’s Road To Riches.
“It is so competitive and Many Clouds has shown fantastic form this year but, for me, Paul Nicholls knows what it takes to win the Gold Cup and I’d be very surprised if Silviniaco Conti doesn’t go very close.
O’Shea enjoys the break away from the beautiful game to keep an eye on his horses but is also fascinated by the similar techniques used by trainers to what he sees on the training ground at Sunderland or with Ireland.
“Lot’s of different aspects go into it and I would definitely take an interest in that side of things, purely because the science that has become involved in football is now involved in horse racing and it is amazing to see some of the techniques that trainers use now, having horses in treadmills and swimming pools and monitoring their hearts – it’s incredible.”
O’Shea hopes to make the journey to Cheltenham for at least a day if he can and looks forward of enjoying the “very special” atmosphere of an Irish winner returning.
“It’s brilliant because I think the English public appreciate the competition and the quality that the Irish public bring over year after year.
“That’s why it is so special to get a winner because you see the elite trainers or owners not having a winner until the last day sometimes and, when you look at the horses they’ve been running, you wonder how has that happened but it’s just so competitive.”
Plying his trade on a weekly basis in the Premier League means O’Shea has a real understanding of how competitive sport can be and horse ownership is no different.
The dream is to see his colours carried to victory at Cheltenham.
“To have a winner anywhere as an owner is very nice especially at the likes of the Punchestown Festival or in the Galway Plate or those races but ultimately Cheltenham is the Champions League of horse racing isn’t it?”