Hong Kong Mile

Sheehan hoping Prince can bury Mile controversy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 12:00am

Australian jockey Justin Sheehan is not trying to forget his last riding trip to Hong Kong, but he has been working hard on a selective memory and hoping others have, too. Sheehan rode tenacious Adam into a Hong Kong Mile third behind Sunline and Fairy King Prawn in December 2000, but the joy of a fine moment was lost in the Greg Childs 'tactics' inquiry.

'At the time it was such a drop for me,' Sheehan recalled yesterday after steering Universal Prince around his morning gallop in preparation for Sunday's Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup. 'After the great achievement by Adam to run third behind two champions, I got caught up in something that was out of my control.' In a Sydney newspaper, Childs admitted he had discussed likely tactics with Sheehan before winning the Hong Kong Mile on Sunline. Jockey Club stewards opened an inquiry and fined Childs $300,000 over a matter which left a sour taste with Sheehan.

'Frankly, Greg said things that he shouldn't have,' Sheehan said yesterday. 'For instance, he said that he knew my horse couldn't win. Now during our lead-up to the race, the trainer, Ray Brock, was ill in hospital. So the owners of Adam were looking to me, I was riding the horse and he got better every day he was here.

'I told them he would run the race of his life and he did - it was like winning an Olympic bronze medal. But what must they have thought when they read that Greg said he knew my horse couldn't win? That was just his opinion, but it didn't sound like that.'

Sheehan says he was 'totally vindicated' by the outcome, but the episode took attention from a remarkable effort by a trainer with literally one horse and a bunch of small-time owners. 'In the end, it wasn't negative for me and I hope people in Hong Kong don't remember it that way,' the jockey said.

'For me, these races are incredible. Remember, I started riding in Darwin. Everyone starts somewhere, but to go from punching around bush tracks to riding in an international in Hong Kong is a thrill for me and it always will be.

'I have to pinch myself. I'm not overawed, I have a job to do and I go to work, but I get a thrill out of being here with a good horse and a good chance.'

A heavyweight in the Patrick Payne mould, Sheehan rode his first winner at 14 years old, outrode his allowance in any company before he was 18 and wandered Australia looking for a place to settle. Robbed of opportunities by the same Mother Nature that gave him his gifts, Sheehan still boasts a current strike rate of better than 25 per cent and arrives in form, having won on three of his four rides in Sydney last Thursday.

'If horses have my weight they probably have some ability too, but it is hard when you get a suspension or an injury,' he said. 'I rode 125 pounds in Sydney on New Year's Day, got a suspension and it took until the carnival two months later before I was fully fit. That's why I'm so grateful for Universal Prince and the loyalty that his owner Terry Hogan has shown me.'

And the four-year-old always has Sheehan's weight, after the Bede Murray-trained colt stood head and shoulders above his rivals as a three-year-old. Like Jeune, another son of Scenic, Universal Prince has a stud career ahead and an international win would do wonders for his marketability but Sheehan doesn't do a bad selling job himself.

'The more you ask the more he gives. The day he won the AJC Derby, he would have run well in any race, anywhere,' he said. 'He is extremely willing - he'll turn up Sunday and go to war for me. He was a little blase this morning in his work, he wanted to have a look around and I let him, so it probably wasn't the best he can produce but he felt good. We'll put blinkers on him on Friday and see how he works then.'