Regarded as one of the truly great trainers and drivers of his time, Andy Sheahan won three Perth Driver’s Premierships and two Perth Trainer’s Premierships and was placed in both premierships a further five times and also finished third on the 1925 Melbourne Drivers Premiership.
Andy Sheahan was born in the Templestowe Hotel in Victoria in 1895 where his father Patrick, the publican, was a renowned Irish dancer. Sheahan was the youngest of seven children.
His first experience with horses came as a youth on the road between Heidelberg and Templestowe and that interest grew into harness racing per medium of a horse called Ragtime which began racing for Sheahan at Richmond in Victoria in 1918.
The 1924/25 Melbourne Drivers/Riders Premiership saw him first come to public notice when he finished third in that season’s Melbourne Driver’s Premiership and shortly afterwards Sheahan’s life was to change forever.
In 1922 Australia’s all-time leading sire Globe Derby had been purchased by Victorian owner A G Hunter (later to have Victoria’s premier harness race named after him) to become part of one of the best collections of racing and breeding stock seen in Australia.
Hunter’s Northwood Park property was a showpiece and Globe Derby was to become the stud’s flagship sire. In January 1926 Globe Derby won at the famous Richmond cinders track in Melbourne and at the reins was none other than Andy Sheahan.
The following piece is taken from the pages of the Australian Trotting Record at the time;
“The large crowd…were privileged to witness a performance the like of which most of them will never see again. This wonderful exhibition was given by Globe Derby (A Sheahan) in the Flying Handicap….in a pocket, from which he was unable to emerge until three furlongs from home. At this stage the leader was fully 60 yards ahead, but just as backers were ready to destroy their tickets up went a roar as Globe Derby went through an opening, and with an electrical dash reached to with striking distance of the leaders….he won by five yards…one of the gamest performances ever seen at Richmond. Some private watches timed Globe Derby to run the last half in a minute flat”.
At this time Andy Sheahan was the private trainer for Hunter at Northwood Park and in charge of an extremely talented group of young horses including a smart maiden 3yo filly called Larimda which Hunter had nominated for the Sires Produce Stakes in WA. Although a maiden in Victoria, Larimda had been placed at five of her seven starts.
Always looking for an opportunity to promote trotting, WATA President James Brennan approached Hunter and asked that Globe Derby accompany Larimda on her trip west to parade and to race the clock in an attempt to better the Australian Mile Record for stallions.
Sheahan arrived in Perth with Hunter’s horses on 24th March 1926 after a seven day voyage to Perth aboard the Katoomba. Ten days later on Easter Saturday, 3rd April 1926, Sheahan won with the mare Eulinya Bells in a heat of the Easter Cup at the WACA Ground track. It was Sheahan’s first starter in this State.
After the third race that night Globe Derby had paraded and was entered for the heats of the Brennan Free-For-All the following week in which two of his nominated opponents were to be his sons Lord Derby and Globepool.
The Brennan FFA was run from a move-up start and the 15yo Globe Derby failed to qualify for the final later in the night when he finished third to the outstanding horses Vin Direct and Taraire. Taraire had won the 1926 Australasian Championship a fortnight earlier.
Sheahan won the second heat of the FFA with Eulinya Bells and the mare finished third to Vin Direct and Taraire in the final. As was originally the plan, Larimda won the WA Sires Produce Stakes on 17th April 1926 and her owner Alex Hunter collected £380 in stakes.
A £250 Time Trial competition was scheduled for the following week but had to be abandoned due to inclement weather rendering the track unsuitable.
Andy Sheahan returned to Victoria with Hunter’s horses and less than three months later it was announced the he was establishing a thoroughbred stud at Northwood Park with a stallion called Ethiopian as foundation sire.
He could see little future for trotting in Victoria under the control of the notorious John Wren and there was a story that he tried desperately to convince Sheahan to switch codes.
In October 1926 Hunter announced the complete dispersal of all his trotting stock and Sheahan took the opportunity to acquire a handful of Hunter’s better bred fillies and mares.
On 8th December 1926 Andy Sheahan arrived in Fremantle accompanied by Eulinya Bells, Katie Wood and Owyhee Lass and stabled at Jim Hand’s Pier Street stables in East Perth.
The Northwood Park dispersal sale was held on 22nd February 1927 and Sheahan had an agent pay 390 guineas for the now 4yo mare Larimda.
She was to win six races for Sheahan after returning to Perth and produce Admiral Park when retired to stud by Sheahan. Admiral Park won seven races for Andy Sheahan and proved a success at stud siring 11 winners including the grand-dam of the outstanding filly Annas Ann which reached fast-class as a 3yo filly.
Driving his own team of well-bred ex Victorian horses and acting as number one catch driver for the Jim Hand stable it didn’t take Andy Sheahan long to establish himself in Perth as a horseman of rare quality.
He also met and married Joy Burt whose family owned the Brisbane Hotel and the couple had three children.
Sheahan won the Perth Driver’s Premiership for the first time in 1927/28 – it was his first full-season in Perth. In the 1929/30 season Sheahan landed 38 winners – a total which stood as the State Record until 1946 when Frank Kersley drove 42 winners. His record was only bettered twice and equalled once in the ensuing 35 seasons.
All up Sheahan won the Perth Drivers Premiership three times and was twice runner-up and three times third on the list. He won the Perth Trainers Premiership twice in 1929/30 and 1936/37 and was runner-up three times and third twice.
On 28th November 1931 the Sheahan stabled heavily supported the mare Northwood Lady into favouritism at 2/1 to beat a high-class field which included a New Zealand Cup winner in Sheik and a WA Pacing Cup winner in Nazimova.
Northwood Lady copped an early check and finished well back and the stewards took no action.
The following week the stable again backed Northwood Lady into favouritism and she beat a marginally easier field convincingly. A hostile demonstration ensued and the stewards gave Sheahan a 12 month disqualification. He lost his appeal and the final comment belongs to a Daily News editorial of 14th December 1931.
“The stewards permitted Northwood Lady to start on the second occasion as her performance on the first occasion was not questioned. She entered into a contract to win the second race yet was disqualified for so doing….Racing stewards should not allow themselves to be swayed by the demonstration of the betting crowd. Their loyalty is so fickle and their better judgement often warped by monetary consideration.”
Sheahan returned after his time on the sidelines and moved his stables from Forrest Street in Perth to 96 Guildford Road Maylands and increased his interest in the breeding of horses. His particular interest was in breeding from mares carrying the blood of Admiral Wood and Sheahan had enjoyed success with some of the progeny of this stallion including the fillies Larimda, Katie Wood and Admiral’s Child.
Admiral Wood isn’t shown as a winner in the Australian Sires Index but he was an outstanding race-horse in New Zealand winning a New Zealand FFA and Auckland Cup.
Sheahan bred a host of top flight performers from his Admiral Wood mares which he agisted on the Swan River flats adjacent to the old Maylands aerodrome near where the Maylands Police Academy now stands.
Larimda produced three winners from three foals which won a combined total of 35 races while Katie Wood produced four winners of 41 races from her five foals.
During this period Andy Sheahan found a balance between racing his string of horses at Gloucester Park on a Saturday night and riding in hunt club events on Sundays. He used both Larimda and Katie Wood in his hunt club pursuits.
The Peninsula Hotel in Maylands was used as the starting point for many of the hunts and years later old-timers recalled seeing one of Andy’s horses, complete with sulky, tied up outside the hotel while Sheahan enjoyed a well-earned drink on his way home from track-work at Gloucester Park.
Described by those who knew him as dapper, dashing, generous, and with a great sense of fun and deep love of his horses which saw him shed a tear after one of his horses was involved in a race-fall.
Andy Sheahan had great “feel’ in his hands and was regarded as one of the most skilled of horsemen in an era literally saturated with great horsemen and while he was a great driver he never drove a motor vehicle.
Ill-health brought a premature end to the career of Andy Sheahan as a driver and in his later years he was restricted to being a trainer and leaving the stable driving to others although he continued to breed from his beloved Admiral Wood bloodlines up until the time of his death in Royal Perth hospital in 1951 at the age of 56 years.