Shaun James Blog
TCP would like to thank Shaun James for his insightful blog of how he got into racing and his career journey. Shaun is about to be moving back to the UK after a successful career in Dubai and is hoping to find a new career as a racing manager. Should you be looking for a racing manager please contact Shaun directly via email on
Start of my Racing Career
Twenty-nine years ago in 1990, I remember it very well. After leaving school at the age of fifteen I took on a job as an apprentice Technician, fixing cement mixers and lawnmower for a tool hire company in my hometown.
The only horses I had seen was on TV, but Horse racing has always fascinated me. I would buy the Sporting Life every day to look at the form and get the lads at work to put a bet on for me and lucky for me most of the time I backed a winner.
I was a very small teenager and had clearly developed a liking for watching horse racing, although to this point the inner workings of the sport remained a mystery to me. One day out of nowhere one of the lads at work joked "why don’t you become a jockey?!" That moment went on to change my life forever, and the rest is history, as we say.
That December, I decided to call a trainer called Charles Cyzer from a phone box so my mum and dad wouldn't find out. The first thing he asked was if I could ride horses? Without the slightest hesitation, I said yes! All this despite the fact I had never sat on a horse in my life. "Right" he replied, "you can start on the 3rd of January and don’t be late." With excitement and nervousness, I just told him "ok Sir I will not be, and I will not let you down."
So I rushed home to tell my parents, after tears and shouting from my mum they decided to let me go, so on January 3rd, my parents drove me from Liverpool to West Sussex. It was snowing heavily, and the journey took us around eight hours from start to finish.
I arrived at the lad's hostel where Mr. Cyzer received around ten lads that lived there and me.
"Right," he said, "you will get up at 4 am and muck four horses out and tack up by 7 am!" Ok Sir" I replied with still no earthly idea on how to do any of that!
The next morning, Bill, The Head Lad from stable gave me this funny looking tack, so at this point, I felt I had to come clean and explain I did not know how to tack up a horse or even ride one! It's fair to say the staff could not believe what I had just told them.
However, amusingly enough the trainer found the whole incident funny, so he assigned the Assistant Trainer to put the tack on for me and said, "well you're here now, and I need someone to ride my horses out!!" They put me on an unrated 10-year-old hack called ‘American Beauty’ Lucky for me, she loved following other horses, and we got on well and having learned the ropes on her I started to develop my riding skills. To cut a long story short within one year working at Mr. Cyzer, I became an apprentice jockey and rode my first winner, Molly Splash, at Brighton on my first ride.
Suddenly, I was a jockey with a huge future! However, things changed swiftly after that, all for the wrong reasons, trainers wanted to use me, and I was big headed. Unfortunately, back then the support system was not there for jockeys like it is now. After receiving a good job offer from elsewhere, I turned my back on the only person that gave me a big opportunity something I always regretted, but you have to learn from those mistakes.
In the end, my career as his new stable jockey was short-lived. The week before I was meant to have my first rides for my new boss I snapped my leg in half and had severe ligament damage in a freak accident, which ultimately went on to end my career as a jockey as I was forced to take a break for nearly two years.
After recuperating from the injuries, I worked for numerous stables such as Peter Walwyn, and John Gosden. I spent a fantastic seven years with the latter of that pair and have some beautiful memories. It was when Mr. Gosden moved his operation to Newmarket; I decided to explore new opportunities abroad and came to Dubai. It has been 14 years counting since then, and I have been working as a Work Rider and jockeys agent
Life in Racing
I have to stress that I have been fortunate with my job and have enjoyed every minute of it. It is like any job; you will get out what you put into it. That said, there has been a downside given I have managed to break both legs and my elbow, but that certainly did not stop me bouncing back and carry on enjoying my career. One thing that still frustrates me though is how UK racing has been run over the years. Seventeen years ago I wrote an article in the Racing Post regarding where racing was heading and sadly it's gone that way. Owners, trainers, and stable staff get nothing from the sport due to a lack of prize money. I like to follow racing from Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and America where the prize money they offer is unbelievable which has inevitably led to horses Travelling abroad for better purses.
Living in Dubai
I have had a fantastic 14 years here in Dubai. It indeed is the land of opportunities, if you want to work hard and achieve your dreams you can. The number of amazing people I have met here and have had the privilege to call them friends. When I first came to Dubai, there was not much here and to watch the transformation has been a pleasure.
I met my wife here, and both my children (daughter and son) were born here, so I have many happy memories. I am due to leave this year as it will be my last year riding horses, but I would like to stay as Dubai has been a big part of my life so no doubt I will be back.
Being an Agent
My first year as a Jockeys Agent was when I managed, the very young William Buick who has since become one of the finest jockeys in the world. In 2010, we finished 2nd in the championship; however, William decided to go with a more experienced agent the following year. After that, I started managing an apprentice jockey, where we went on to win the apprentice championship three years on the bounce from 2014 -2017, which is a great achievement for any young rider
How I met Oisin Murphy
Five years ago, I spotted the talented Oisin Murphy sat by himself, munching on a bowl of nuts, at a Ball in Dubai. I introduced myself and told him next year. I will be booking his rides in Dubai and the Middle East, in which he humbly replied, "yes please and thank you!" The rest is history!
During the summer months, I set out a plan and watched nearly every race Oisin rode in the UK, too much annoyance to my wife.
In Dubai, they have a mixture of Purebred Arab and Thoroughbred races, but I only wanted him here for the Carnival races as he had just started the job with Qatar Racing. With this in mind, I had, and still have to be very careful in what he rides. Since then we just took off.
The best part of being an agent was watching Oisin ride his first Group 1 on Acclaim for Martyn Meade. Then winning the Dubai Turf in Dubai for Godolphin on Benbatl at the 2018 Dubai World Cup meeting, even my five-year-old son knows and is a massive fan of Benbatl. Then to achieve what he did on Roaring Lion and Lightning Spear for Qatar Racing that season was fantastic.
This season, we finished second in the World’s richest race Dubai World Cup on Gronkowski for Phoenix Thoroughbreds. This was a special moment and highlight for me as it’s always been my dream to win the World Cup and Melbourne Cup and gosh it was close; hopefully, we can do it next year. Watching Phoenix Thoroughbred and Phoenix ladies grow in a small space of time is unbelievable and can only be good for the industry, and I will look forward to watching them develop further.
Oisin is an incredible young man. Not only a very talented jockey but also the humblest person. A real role model for any young riders to watch and proves what can be achieved with hard work in a tough sport. He has a pragmatic future ahead and hopefully be a future champion jockey.
One thing I have always learnt and I try to be pass on to anyone that asks for advice, treat people like how you like to be treated, and never take things for granted. I have been fortunate that I play a small part in a very talented young man’s career who has equally helped my career. Most importantly we are the best of friends, and he is like a Son to me. Anyone in life, if you work hard, push yourself, and have the confidence to achieve, you can!
Horse racing in the UAE
There are five racecourses in the UAE Meydan (left-handed turf and dirt ), Jebel Ali (right-handed dirt ), Abu Dhabi (right-handed turf ), Al Ain (right-handed dirt) and Sharjah (left-handed dirt ).
Horse racing in the Emirates has never been so strong and attracts owners from all over the world wanting to have horses here. We have three sales every year, two Godolphin sales and one horse in training sales, and we are seeing more syndicates starting up all the time due to the high prize money and quality of horses you can buy. That can only be very good for the future of racing in the UAE.