ONE could run out of superlatives to describe Colin Keane’s herculean efforts over the course of the year.
Already a dual champion jockey heading into the 2021 season, Keane took things to a new level which culminated in his unprecedented seasonal haul of 141 winners which is a tally that may not be bettered for decades at the very least.
By the time the end of the summer loomed Keane already looked to have his third title in the bag and he achieved the scarcely credible feat of riding 100 winners before the end of August. The previous month he secured a first top-level success in France when Broome claimed the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.
With a century of winners in the bag the rider then set his sights on chasing down Joseph O’Brien’s eight-year record of 126 winners in a season. This milestone was duly annexed on the second Sunday in October when Power Under Me landed the Testimonial Stakes, and Keane proceeded to add further lustre to his haul by ending the campaign with 141 winners.
This tally is testament to an exceptional talent who is surely well placed to become one of the world’s go-to flat jockeys. Central to Keane’s relentless quest for winners was Ger Lyons who enjoyed a terrific season of his own which yielded a career best 85 winners.
A four-timer at Leopardstown on the first day of Irish Champions Weekend was the highlight of a tremendous campaign for Lyons whose string were in sparkling form from the very outset of the season.
MENTION of 2021 cannot pass with reference to Joseph O’Brien who is following the footsteps of his father by making the extraordinary seem almost routine at times.
From a domestic perspective the former champion jockey broke new ground as he ended the season with more winners than anyone else on the flat – a final haul of 108 making for impressive reading.
However, it wasn’t just about reaching a century of winners as the young trainer enhanced his already formidable international record with the admirable State Of Rest. This three-year-old graduated from a comeback third in a Curragh listed race on Derby Weekend to land the Grade 1 Saratoga Derby in early August. Even better was to come from this son of Starspangledbanner just under three months later as he journeyed to Australia to claim a famous success in the Cox Plate under former Irish-based jump jockey Johnny Allen.
A Pretty Polly Stakes win for Thundering Nights along with the emergence of quality juveniles Agartha and Velocidad were other highlights for a trainer whose multifaceted yard seems to excel no matter what the discipline.
ELSEWHERE this was a season in which Dylan Browne McMonagle advanced his burgeoning profile with a victory in the apprentice jockey championship.
The notable backing of Joseph O’Brien played its part in the jockey’s title push but there is absolutely no doubting his status as a potential future champion rider. Furthermore, in the face of Frankie Dettori’s ill-advised and unnecessary outburst on British Champions Day, the rider displayed a level of calm and maturity which his senior colleague would have done well to take heed of.
Jessica Harrington enjoyed another outstanding campaign which yielded a career best 87 winners and her string was in simply unstoppable form through the second half of the season which yielded Group 1 triumphs on consecutive days on Irish Champions Weekend.
First up it was the turn of No Speak Alexander to come out the right side of a controversial finish to the Matron Stakes which once again thrust Ireland’s interference rules under the spotlight, while the following afternoon it was the turn of Discoveries in the Moyglare Stud Stakes.
On what was an excellent renewal of Irish Champions Weekend, Johnny Murtagh bagged another Group 1 triumph when the relentless improver Sonnyboyliston followed up an Ebor Handicap success by claiming the Irish St Leger.
EDDIE Lynam showed that form may be fleeting but class is permanent as his patient and steady handling of Romantic Proposal paid spectacular dividends when she landed the Group 1 Flying Five Stakes under Chris Hayes.
Noel Meade is no stranger to success on the flat at various junctures over the last 40 years but the leading dual-purpose trainer broke new ground when Helvic Dream provided him with a first Group 1 victory when edging out Broome in the Tattersalls Gold Cup.
Also enjoying a maiden Group 1 triumph in 2021 was Adrian McGuinness when A Case Of You landed the Prix de l’Abbaye on Arc Weekend. The notable upswing in quality at McGuinness’s disposal over the last couple of seasons has been evident in the yard’s growing profile at a higher level of competition and further big-race success could easily come the way of this operation in the coming seasons.
Elsewhere, Ken Condon’s superb but understated handling of his inmates was again in evidence when Laws Of Indices struck Group 1 gold in the Prix Jean Prat in France.
Performance of the year
St Mark’s Basilica’s career may have been cut somewhat short but he was brilliant throughout the season and is one of the best colts his trainer has ever handled.
Highlight of the year
Noel Meade has been chasing a first Group 1 success for decades and it finally arrived when Helvic Dream edged out Broome in May’s Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh.
Juvenile of the year
Tenebrism’s performance in the Cheveley Park Stakes was stunning, but even more so when one considers her preparation for the race which was her first since late March.