Gavin Sheehan interview: 'Snowball effect' behind superb season as jockey eyes further Cheltenham glory

Gavin Sheehan has been just about the rider of the British National Hunt season thus far, but anyone coming to this piece in search of the great secret to his upturn will be quickly disappointed.

“I presume people want to know that I'm going down to the gym more and doing more stuff, or whatever - but it’s not,” he tells Standard Sport. “I wouldn’t say everything’s clicked. As a jockey, you just need to get on the right horses and this year I’ve certainly got on more of them.”

The numbers support the claim. On the morning we speak, Sheehan is on his way to ride at Wetherby, already sitting on 78 winners for the season, just one shy of his best ever tally with a quarter of the campaign still to run.

It is quality, not quantity, though that has marked this out as the 31-year-old’s finest season yet, littered with showpiece Saturday winners: Datsalrightgino in the Coral Gold Cup, Fugitif and Ga Law in feature Cheltenham handicaps either side of the New Year and, in between, Hewick in the biggest race outside the spring Festivals, the King George VI Chase.

He calls it a “bit of a snowball effect”, each success pushing his name a little closer to the top of the pile when trainers and owners have a high-profile ride going spare, as was the case when Hewick came to Kempton at Christmas without his regular jockey, the injured Jordan Gainford.

But pressed, Sheehan admits there is more to it than good luck and good PR. His riding, he says, is benefitting from the licence he is afforded by trainer Jamie Snowden, the ex-military man - “He’s still a military man - he runs a tight ship!” - for whom he is stable jockey.

“This year I’ve been riding the horses as I find them, rather than riding to set instructions,” he explains. “Take the Coral Gold Cup. We said if we were sitting six or seventh we’d be happy enough. As it worked out, I was actually last.

“But I just rode the race as I found it, let the race develop as it was, allowed the other horses to come back. That was the freedom and confidence Jamie’s having in me to be able to ride how I see fit. It worked out alright.”

“I’m not one of those jockeys that’s afraid to get things wrong,” he adds, which means a little more coming from someone who knows only too well how severe the consequences can be. It was only three years ago that Sheehan was stopped from riding a number of what had been his flagship horses in the Brooks family’s ownership after a misjudged show on Saint Calvados in that season’s King George.

"Your confidence is always going to take a knock,” he says of the episode. “But you take a knock for the day or whatever it might be and then you've soon got to move on and kick on with life.”

It can be a cruel game, emphasised by the fact that of the aforementioned quartet of partnerships Sheehan has steered to marquee success this term, only one is to be reunited at Cheltenham this week.

Gainford’s return to form and fitness means he will be back on Hewick in tomorrow’s Gold Cup, while both Fugitif and Ga Law are due to line up in the same race, today’s Ryanair Chase. Sheehan’s ties to Snowden mean he is obliged to ride the latter.

Datsalrightgino, meanwhile, was sadly lost on the racecourse in January, suffering a fatal fall on the same Trials Day card that saw a resurgent Ga Law state his own Cheltenham claim and prompt connections to supplement him for the Ryanair at a cost of £18,000.

“There were high hopes and dreams for Datsalrightgino after him stepping up in trip and doing what he did in the Coral Gold Cup,” Sheehan reflects. "You could only but dream with a horse like that.

“Ga Law comes out and wins and you're thinking happy days. Then, you get on Datsalrightgino and it becomes a very sad day for everybody. It's the highs and lows within an hour.”

Thankfully, for Sheehan, this season has been defined by the better half of that balance, with hope that in Thursday’s feature, it could yet get better still.

Gavin Sheehan will be riding during one of Britain's Premier Raceday fixtures, The Cheltenham Festival (12-15 March). To find out more visit