NOT long after Colin Keane secured a first jockeys’ championship two seasons ago, I remember overhearing a conversation about him at the races.
“Surely he’ll get a big job now,” one fella said.
“Yea, the likes of Ballydoyle or one of the other big names will be keen to get him, you’d think,” was the reply.
Remember this was pre-Siskin. Ger Lyons had a good 2018 season and he was instrumental in Keane’s title bid but he wasn’t the dual Irish Group 1-winning trainer he is this season. It was still perhaps a harsh reflection on the Glenburnie trainer but I remember this was a view circulating at the time. It’s probably the case in most sports - the big-money transfers and all the speculation to go with them is what gets people talking.
I’d imagine that Keane never thought about taking another job, whether anyone came looking or not.
It was Lyons who showed the faith in him at the start of his career and there is a close connection between the two men. As it has transpired, Siskin came along to give both of them a maiden Irish Group 1 and then classic success. The curve of Lyons’s progression is still heading upwards and there aren’t many bigger yards in the country at present.
But, the Lyons number one jockey job, while an excellent position in its own right, also allows Keane a freedom to be a go-to man. A freedom that other first jockey jobs might not allow him and it is something that Keane has benefited from in recent years.
This was the case again over the weekend when, alongside table topper Shane Foley, Keane was the only other jockey to ride in all 16 races on LICW. He rode for eight different trainers and recorded four winners in all, two at Leoaprdstown and two at the Curragh.
He combined with Johnny Murtagh on Champers Elysees to record his fourth career Group 1 while his other three wins came for British trainers - Safe Voyage for John Quinn in the Boomerang Mile, Mr Lupton for Richard Fahey in the Bold Lad Sprint Handicap and Shark Tale One for Fahey again in the Tattersalls Ireland Super Auction Sales Stakes.
Keane’s other rides were at the weekend must have been the envy of a lot of his weighroom colleagues. He rode A’Ali in the Flying Five, Sottsass in the Irish Champion Stakes, Thunder Beauty in the Moyglare and Micro Manage in the Irish St Leger.
Aside from the big-race wins, the weekend was another small step forward for Keane in his pursuit of Foley in the jockeys’ championship. The gap between the two is now just 10 wins (68 to 58 while it’s a further 10 wins back to Wayne Lordan in third) and you’d wonder how much closer it would be if Keane didn’t go to Goodwood for the Siskin ride in the Sussex Stakes, thus enforcing himself to take two weeks off to quarantine on return. That said, there are still lots of races to be run this season and you wouldn’t rule the Meath jockey out just yet.
Foley has held a sizeable lead in the championship for a couple of months now. He has benefited significantly from the support of his ‘home’ stable of Jessica Harrington who has provided him with 72% of his winners in 2020. In contrast, and going with the theme for Keane on LICW, Ger Lyons has provided his stable jockey with just over half of his winners, at 51%.
Foley has had 484 rides in 2020 and just over 64% have been for Harrington while 42% of Keane’s rides have been for Lyons. Foley is operating at a 14% strike rate in total with Keane at 15%, which has seen the latter gradually close the gap.
The flat turf season was extended out to November 7th, with the final fixture at Naas. There are still just over 40 fixtures left but the minor difference in Keane’s strike rate won't be enough to allow him to catch Foley though, so there will need to be variable change.
Perhaps this is where Keane’s go-to status comes into play even more that usual and it will be interesting to see if that is a factor in the closing weeks of the season. Both jockeys may well miss fixtures by travelling abroad for big-race rides but, with quarantine exemptions now in place, neither should be too inconvenienced.
You’d make Foley a hot favourite still but he will need the Harrington stable to maintain its form. It could get interesting if Keane can eke his strike-rate a little higher also.
THE Kilternan Stakes, or the Paddy Power ‘Is it 2021 yet’ Stakes as it was known this year, is often one of the least glamorous races on LICW but it produced a notable performance from Tiger Moth on Saturday.
Aidan O’Brien’s colt was running for the first time since his huge run to come out of the pack and chase Santiago home in the Irish Derby and, after his impressive win, he has been interestingly earmarked for the Melbourne Cup by his trainer.
Not many Northern Hemisphere three-year-olds have gone for the Cup but Rekindling’s successful bid in 2017 has given plenty of hope for that age group. Indeed Cross Counter made it back-to-back wins for European three-year-olds in 2018 and O’Brien’s Rostropovich, the only other three-year-old in the race, was fifth. Last season Il Paradiso and Constantinople ran as the only three-year-olds in the race and finished third and 13th respectively, but the latter did finish fourth in the Caulfield Cup en route to the race.
Tiger Moth is a lot less exposed than the usual horses that end up on the plane down under but he is all the more interesting for that. He has any amount of scope to progress further and it’s interesting that he has been given this assignment.