A penny for the thoughts of Ryan Moore when he found out Colin Keane was jocked up for three rides on Aidan O’Brien-trained horses at the Curragh on Sunday. Another penny for his thoughts again when his mount Wembley finished a closing-in second on St Mark’s Basilica, the other O’Brien runner, ridden by Frankie Dettori, in the Dewhurst.
Is this the start of a new era or has the social media rumour mill gone too far?
For good measure, Keane’s first ride for O’Brien on Sunday was a winning one, on 2/1 favourite Khartoum in the opening maiden.
The 2017 champion jockey rode his first winner for Aidan O’Brien on Khartoum at the Curragh on Sunday. It is worth noting Seamie Heffernan was unavailable on Sunday due to a suspension, however there were alternative options available to O’Brien with the usual Ballydoyle riders. Keane was employed by O’Brien again today (Tuesday) at Cork and was back in the winners’ enclosure on Sir Lucan.
The 2017 champion jockey has made his name riding for Ger Lyons, both men progressing significantly in the last five seasons. They both achieved their first domestic Group 1 this season when Siskin won the Irish 2000 Guineas, in which Keane was seen at his best in finding his mount a clear run through a wall of Ballydoyle horses.
It’s also worth noting that while Keane has only been riding for O’Brien at the last two fixtures, he rode a classic winner for the Coolmore partners on board Even So (trained by Lyons) in the Irish Oaks.
Having trailed Shane Foley by 16 winners at the beginning of September, Keane is now five winners clear of that rival (at the time of writing, today's meeting at Cork ongoing) and odds-on for his second jockeys’ title following an electric run of form.
Many would assert that he is the best flat jockey in Ireland at present and whether his bookings for Ballydoyle in recent days is just happenstance or an indication of something more significant remains to be seen.
There have been plenty of high-profile jockeys through the ranks at Ballydoyle down the years, and plenty of highly successful tenures cut to a rather abrupt end.
For Keane it would be a huge move, breaking away from Lyons with whom he owes a great deal for the faith shown in his ability from a very young age. But the Ballydoyle job is the gold standard for flat jockeys. It could be very hard to turn down if offered.
Keith Donoghue with Gordon Elliott and groom Jack Madden after riding Samcro to victory at Down Royal last season \Healy Racing
It was around this time last year that a few eyebrows were raised following the booking of Keith Donoghue to ride Battleoverdoyen for his beginners chase debut at Galway.
Jack Kennedy was injured at the time but Davy Russell wasn’t, prompting the rumour mill to start chucking. It moved a couple of notches faster the week after, when Donoghue was again booked for winning rides on Fury Road and Samcro on the Friday of Down Royal’s traditional two-day November meeting and the Meath rider was again in pole position on the Saturday when he was on Delta Work in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase.
As it transpired, a couple of weeks later, Russell was back in favour with the O’Learys, and riding most of their better horses again. Writing in his Star Sports blog, he labelled all the fuss as “a mountain being made out of a molehill”, and it never really came to light as to why such a fleeting switch in jockey policy for the O’Learys came about.
Fast forward to now and Donoghue finds himself in a good position again, this time because of injuries sustained by both Kennedy (collar bone) and Russell (neck), somewhat remarkably at the same Limerick meeting on Sunday. Both will be on the sidelines for a number of weeks and while Elliott holds a little hope that Kennedy will be back for Down Royal, the Kerry rider has to be a major doubt for that meeting. Elliott has said he will rely on Donoghue for the time being, using a best-available rider policy for everything else.
Donoghue has been at Cullentra House more or less from the beginning of Elliott’s journey. A hugely talented rider but one who has always faced a tough battle with the scales due to his tall frame, Donoghue’s opportunities will always be limited so you wouldn’t begrudge him this turn of luck.
However it is worth noting that he has had significantly more than his usual amount of rides this summer, for Elliott and for Gavin Cromwell, whose number one jockey Jonathan Moore remains on the sidelines. The 27-year-old has 18 winners on the board already, adding to his tally on Cromwell’s classy Darver Star in a beginners chase at Punchestown today.
Top put that figure in the context of his career, that is 12 more winners than he had last season, and we’re not even in the National Hunt season proper. He only has four more winners to equal his best ever tally.
The summer jumps period would usually be a good time for Donoghue but there is no doubt he’ll want to carry his form into the winter now when the traditional big races come around. With Elliott likely to commence the seasons of the likes of Envoi Allen, Abacadabras and Samcro in the coming weeks, Donoghue will be hoping to make hay while the sun fades.