Donn's Articles » Colin Keane

Colin Keane

Ardhoomey was a 16/1 shot when he lined up in the Group 2 Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes at The Curragh on Irish Champions’ Weekend last year.  Rider Colin Keane was hopeful, not confident.  The ground had gone against his horse, he thought.  He rode him for luck.

Keane settled his horse in behind horses through the early stages of the race, towards the far side.  They went hard up front but Ardhoomey was able to travel nicely towards the rear of the field.  Passing the two-furlong marker, Ger Lyons’ horse was no better than 11th of the 13 runners, a wall of horses in front of him, but his young rider was not panicking.  He knew that he still had plenty left to give and that the leaders had gone fast, that there was a good chance they would come back to him.

Keane moved a little to his left, explored a potential route, but there was no avenue there.  He moved back to his right, and there it was, a gap through which his horse could move.  He gave Ardhoomey a squeeze and his horse picked up. 

Inside the furlong marker and suddenly they were disputing third place and moving forward.  Take Cover and Spirit Quartz had gone for home in front of them, but Ardhoomey was closing.  Keane moved a little further to his right, to the far side of the duelling leaders.  He kept his horse’s momentum up, kept him going forward. 

Ardhoomey showed a turn of foot that took him into the lead on the far side.  No sooner had he done so, however, than Washington DC burst forward to his left.  Keane asked his horse to pick up again, and he did.  He stretched his neck out willingly and ran all the way to the line.  When he hit it, he hit it first, a half a length in front of Washington DC.

“That was a great feeling,” recalls Keane.  “A big winner like that on a big weekend.  A Group 2 winner on Irish Champions’ Weekend.  They’re the races you want to be winning.  Ardhoomey was great on the day.  He has been some horse for me.”

Keane has ridden Ardhoomey in all his races.  The Dark Angel gelding has run 23 times, and Keane has ridden him 23 times.  His 24th run will be at The Curragh next Sunday, when he will bid to land the Flying Five again.

“He’s in great form,” says Keane.  “He had a little break after the Sapphire Stakes, and he ran well at Tipperary on Thursday on his first run since.  He is bang on track for Sunday.”

When Keane rode Ardhoomey for the first time in a maiden at Dundalk in June 2014, he was a 3lb-claiming apprentice.  Now the young rider is leading the jockeys’ championship.

How did that happen?

It has always been about horses for Keane.  His father trained and his mother ran a riding school, and when young Colin wasn’t riding or working with his ponies, he was thinking about them.

“I didn’t like school,” he says candidly.  “I suppose it kept me from the horses.  I had no interest in sitting looking at a blackboard when I could have been riding out or mucking out.”

He had his first ride for his dad Gerry on King Of Kilberry at Dundalk in October 2010, and he rode his first winner, No Trimmings, also for his dad, back at Dundalk two months and just six rides later.  It is his association with Ger Lyons, however, that has been the springboard.

“It was in February 2013,” recalls the rider.  “I was due to ride a horse for Ger at Dundalk, Shukhov, and he asked me to go up and have a sit on him the Wednesday before.  That’s where it began.  It was obviously a brilliant move for me.  My dad was reducing the number of horses that he had, and I wasn’t doing a stroke at home.  I’ve been with Ger since.”

The other quantum leap was in 2014, when he was appointed at stable jockey by Ger Lyons.  It was a brave call by the trainer, one of the leading trainers in Ireland, to appoint a 19-year-old to the top job.  But Lyons has never made any secret of the regard in which he holds his young rider.

“I couldn’t believe it at the time really,” says Keane.  “Ger just took me into his office and told me quietly, on my own.  I didn’t tell anyone straight away.  I didn’t even tell my mum or dad.  I don’t know why, I just thought that I’d wait until it came out.  It wasn’t really until four or five days later at Roscommon that people started to know.”

Lyons and Keane work well together.  They suit each other, they get each other.

“I am in with Ger every morning, so I think we understand each other well.  Ger wouldn’t give you a million instructions, which is great.  It means a lot when you know that he has that confidence in you.”

Lyons is not the only one who has shown confidence in the young rider.  When top British trainer Roger Varian sent Realtra to Fairyhouse in early July to run in the Group 3 Brownstown Stakes, it was Keane whom he booked to ride her.  The jockey delivered too, producing the daughter of Dark Angel with a well-timed run to get up and win by a length.  No surprise, then, that when Varian returned with Realtra at Tipperary on Thursday for the Group 3 Fairy Bridge Stakes, Keane was back on board.  No surprise, either, that they won that too.

Keane rode Intimation for Sir Michael Stoute to finish second in the Group 3 Snow Fairy Stakes at The Curragh last Sunday.  He rode Suedois for David O’Meara to finish third in the Group 2 Greenlands Stakes at The Curragh on Irish Guineas weekend.  He is morphing into a go-to man for British-based trainers on their Irish forays.  Difficult to believe that he is not 23 yet.

“I’m very lucky,” he says.  “I ride for great people in Ireland, and It’s great to get the call from these leading British trainers.”

There is a long road ahead but, as things stand, Keane is four clear of Pat Smullen in the jockeys’ championship.  Runner-up behind perennial champion Smullen in each of that last two seasons, it is a big ambition to win it.

“To be champion jockey,” says Keane thoughtfully.  “I wouldn’t have thought that it would be possible a couple of years ago.  Of course, I’d love to be champion at some stage.  I’ll just keep riding away, keep doing my best.”

© The Sunday Times, 2nd September 2017