The Apprentice Jockeys Championship remains a thriller, as David Egan and Kieran Shoemark go head to head, with George Wood in hot pursuit.
The youngsters have been rattling in the winners throughout the UK, with Shoemark successful at Ffos Las on Sunday, Egan banging in a double at Bath, whilst on Monday Wood’s struck at Brighton.
Young David has been supported throughout the season by his father, fellow jockey John. Now in the twilight of his career, Egan Snr has been enthused by the presence of his son, and thrilled by his success. Advice for the teenager has been kept simple: ‘Work hard. Listen rather than speak and keep your head down.’
A career as a jockey always looked likely, as along with a successful father in the saddle, his mother is former trainer Sandra Hughes, daughter of famous Irish trainer Dessie. There’s also the rather talented ex-jock Uncle Richard, now in the fledgling stage as a trainer himself.
David started pony racing in Ireland at 14, and at 16 came over to England to attend the British Racing School, before settling as an apprentice with Roger Varian in Newmarket. He lives locally with his father and is coached by Michael Hills. In past interviews Egan praises his father for ‘teaching him everything’ and being ‘a great mentor’. He says of Dad: “We’ve ridden against each other quite often and he doesn’t give me an inch. He’s very competitive at the races.”
That competitive edge has clearly been inherited, with Egan Jnr currently in pole position to take the apprentice crown.
His main challenge appears to come from Kieran Shoemark, who’s already had a season to remember, capped in July when riding out his claim in style at Epsom with a 105-1 treble. Speaking at the time to Racing UK, Shoemark, still only 21, said of the achievement: “When you first start off, it is every young apprentice's dream to ride out their claim. Now it's gone I shall have to step up. Mr Charlton has been very good to me. I am getting plenty of rides at the moment, long may it continue.”
Kieran lives in Stow-on-the-Wold with parents Niamh and Ian, and brother Connor. He’s another from a riding family, with his brother currently plying his trade as a Jumps jock, tagged to Fergal O’Brien’s yard, just down the road at Naunton in the Cotswolds.
The brothers attended the Cotswold School in Bourton-on-the-Water along with other famous riding youngsters, the Twiston-Davies boys. Because of the locality, it had been Kieran’s wish to become a National Hunt jockey, though at 15 when starting to take racing more seriously he was persuaded to head for the Flat.
After leaving school he became an apprentice, spending three years working at Andrew Balding’s yard. He was taught plenty and rode more than 20 winners. He was advised by Balding to head to Australia for the winters, to gain riding experience in a new environment. Just 17 at the time, he travelled to the far side of the world on his own. He was based with Danny O'Brien in Flemington and gained a huge amount of racing knowledge. It was also a character building experience for the young jockey.
Speaking of his time there, he said: “Going to Australia was a big influence on how my career has gone. I was very young and travelled to the other side of the world, living on my own. It gave me a lot of independence and I met a great group of people who will be friends for life.”
Now settled back at home in Stow with the family, Kieran is apprentice to Roger Charlton at his Beckhampton Stables in Wiltshire. His title challenge took a knock at the beginning of August, when found guilty by the stewards at Kempton of not riding West Palm Beach out for a second-place finish. A ten-day ban was his penalty, causing him to miss the Ebor Festival at York.
Prior to the ban Shoemark had been a short-priced favourite for the Apprentice title, but the enforced lay-off tipped the scales in favour of Egan. His advantage now lies at six, and he’s as short as 1/3, with Kieran available at 11/4.
Riding out his claim was certainly a thrill, but that may have been surpassed at Royal Ascot, when Shoemark won the King George V Stakes aboard Atty Persse for Roger Charlton and Team Godolphin. Of his jockey’s ride that day, Charlton said: “Kieran is a very good rider and his 3lb claim helps. I'm lucky to have him.”
Interviewed around the time, the thrilled jock had said: “It was a fantastic day and a dream come true. I knew I had the ride just a few days before the race and knew he had a really good chance. We led into the home straight and I had a very willing companion. All my family were there too.”
George Wood is currently third in the title race and apprentice to James Fanshawe. He started riding-out at Fanshawe’s yard as a 14-year-old during the school holidays. Yet another to progress through the Pony Racing system, he also spent an invaluable month at the British Racing School.
Just three winners adrift of Shoemark, he landed a timely success at Brighton on Monday, a track that has been kind to him of late, having ridden a double just a week earlier. Monday’s win came thanks to Lambourn trainer Jonathan Portman, a handler who has been extremely supportive during this successful campaign.
These youngsters are improving at a rate of knots and clearly have an exciting future in the sport. Their battle for this year’s apprentice crown is likely to remain a hard-fought affair, right until its end on Champions Day at Ascot.