Donn's Articles » Michael Kinane

Michael Kinane

The announcement of Michael Kinane’s retirement on Tuesday morning had much in common with the majority of his rides over the last 34 years: no fuss, no fanfare, just get the job done and, above all else, timed to perfection.

Kinane always maintained that he would continue to ride as long as he was enjoying it, and his enjoyment must have reached the dizziest of heights this summer when he and Sea The Stars scaled just about every peak in racing, and some beyond racing’s range.

You cannot over-estimate the impact that this jockey has had on Irish racing in general, nor what his exploits have done for Irish flat jockeys in particular. Here was an Irish-based jockey, a wholly indigenous entity, who went to the UK, France, America, Hong Kong, Japan and even Australia and came away with the very best prizes that those countries could offer. Champion jockey in Ireland 13 times, he is still the only European-based rider to have won a leg of the American Triple Crown or the Melbourne Cup.

The path that is his career is strewn with gems. To come up with a list of his best 10 rides is to put The Beatles Greatest Hits on to a 10-track CD. This is more a sample than a definitive list.

Ten of the best

Carroll House, 1989 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

Kinane first rode Carroll House in the Irish Champion Stakes at the Phoenix Park in September 1989, when the pair got the better of a protracted battle with Steve Cauthen on Citidancer. Unsurprisingly, he kept the ride for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe five weeks later. Drawn towards the wide outside, 16 of the 19 runners, Kinane kicked the Michael Jarvis-trained colt out of the stalls and adopted a good early position. Confident of his horse’s stamina, he went for home from well outside the furlong pole, keeping his horse up to his work all the way to the line to record his first big-race victory in Europe and announce himself as a rider with whom to be reckoned on the international stage.

Belmez, 1990 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes

When Steve Cauthen chose to ride Old Vic instead of Belmez in the 1990 King George, Sheikh Mohammed and Henry Cecil had little hesitation in booking Kinane for the ride on their second string, Belmez. Wearing the substitute’s white cap, Kinane tracked the pace-setting Old Vic into Ascot’s short home straight, and drove the son of El Gran Senor into the lead at the two-furlong pole. Old Vic fought back bravely under Cauthen, and the pair engaged in a rare duel, with Kinane’s strength and Belmez’s willingness seeing them home by a neck in a thriller.

Alandi, 2009 Prix du Cadran

If you needed just one more demonstration of Michael Kinane’s ability, professionalism and absolute attention to detail, you had it in his ride on Alandi to win the Prix du Cadran on Arc de Triomphe day last October. Just an hour and a half after he and Sea The Stars had sent tremors through Longchamp and the entire racing world, he went out about his business as usual on Alandi in the two-and-a-half-mile Group 1 contest. He ensured that he held the inside berth around the turn away from the stands, moved up behind Yeats and Incanto Dream on the run around the home turn, and then put it up to Yeats from early in the home straight, ensuring that he had enough in reserve to just hold the late lunge of Kasbah Bliss.

Commander In Chief, 1993 Derby

It wasn’t surprising that Pat Eddery chose to ride Tenby in the 1993 Derby instead of Commander In Chief. Tenby was a warm favourite for the race having won all five races that he had contested up to that point, including the Dante, the quintessential Derby trial. Step forward super-sub Michael Kinane again. Behind in the early stages of the race, he and Commander In Chief were no better than sixth turning for home, but the colt picked up impressively when Kinane asked him, to go away and win by over three lengths and provide the rider with his first Derby victory.

Pat Eddery says: “Tenby was odds on, he had won the Dante, I was always going to ride him in preference to Commander In Chief, but I still thought that Commander In Chief was a good horse, he had come on a lot for winning his race at York. My horse didn’t handle the track for whatever reason, and he was never right after the race, but Mick had ridden Commander In Chief work, he knew him well, I didn’t need to give him any instructions. Of course, I wasn’t too happy that I was on the wrong one on the day, but Mick gave him the perfect ride. He was one of the very best I ever rode against.”

Vintage Crop, 1993 Melbourne Cup

Dermot Weld says: “Vintage Crop’s win in the Melbourne Cup was obviously one of the highlights of both of our careers. Michael was a great judge of pace, he had this great ability to be in the right place at the right time, he rode with great confidence, and he had the ability to instill that confidence into the horse. I wasn’t worried when he was so far back turning for home. It is a long straight at Melbourne, we had walked it, and I was very confident throughout that race, because the horse was travelling smoothly. Michael knew what he needed to do.”

Galileo, 2001 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes

Dual Derby winner, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Galileo was sent off a warm order to maintain his unbeaten record in the 2001 King George, but he faced a worthy adversary in the five-year-old Godolphin horse Fantastic Light, winner of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes on his previous start. Kinane tracked the Godolphin pacemaker Give The Slip into the home straight, then delivered his colt to take it up at the two-furlong pole. Fantastic Light had to go wide into the home straight and, while he delivered a serious challenge at the furlong pole, Galileo picked up again on the far side when Kinane asked him, going on inside the final 150 yards to win easily in the end.

High Chaparral, 2003 Irish Champion Stakes

Michael Kinane’s ability to make split second decisions from the saddle while travelling at 40 miles an hour was very much in evidence in the 2003 Irish Champion Stakes. Turning into the home straight, Kinane went outside on High Chaparral as Darryll Holland went inside on Falbrav. Crucially, the net result was that Falbrav struggled for racing room as High Chaparral launched his momentum-fuelled challenge down the outside to get home by a neck from an unlucky-looking Falbrav.

Darryll Holland says: “Mick is fiercely competitive. He’s a great mate of mine, I sit close to him in the weigh room, but you wouldn’t want to be going up his inside in a seller not to mind in a Group 1 race! I got taken to the inside on Falbrav, his horse drifted in towards me, took my horse’s ground and he beat me a neck, but the result was allowed to stands in the stewards’ enquiry. It was just one of those things.”

Go And Go, 1990 Belmont Stakes

Dermot Weld says: “Of course, we weren’t expected to win the Belmont Stakes, no European horse had ever won a leg of the American Triple Crown. Both Michael and I had the belief and the confidence that it could be done. Very often jockeys hope that they will win, but Michael really believed he would win. Some people said that I should have used a local jockey, but I had no worries about Michael on that score. He gave him a great ride, and we won by eight lengths in the seventh fastest Belmont Stakes ever run up to then.”

Proclamation, 2005 Sussex Stakes

Kinane had never ridden Proclamation in a race before the 2005 Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, but it didn’t mean that he wasn’t fully in tune with the horse’s strengths and his opposition’s weaknesses. Stone last in the early stages of the race, he moved up on the outside of his main rival Soviet Song, legitimately keeping the filly in a pocket for as long as he dared, before he unleashed Proclamation’s turn of foot, which took him clear inside the final furlong. Soviet Song did get out after him, but Kinane had timed it to perfection, and the colt held on by a fast-diminishing half a length.

Sea The Stars, 2009 Derby

Sea The Stars’s win in the Arc de Triomphe is understandably the highlight of the colt’s racing career for many, but Michael Kinane excelled on him in the Derby. The John Oxx-trained colt was free in the early stages of the race off a sedate early pace, but Kinane quickly had him settled so that he wouldn’t expend too much energy unnecessarily. He swung along easily behind the two leaders, moved up nicely at the top of the home straight, took it up at the furlong pole and quickened away. It was another one of those no-fuss rides that litter Kinane’s career in which he made everything look easy. Significantly, Johnny Murtagh, who rode Rip Van Winkle in the race, said afterwards that it was Kinane, not the two early leaders, who set the pace of the race.

© The Sunday Times, 13th December 2009