Things We Learned » Keane is king

Keane is king

Just in case there was any doubt about the destination of the 2017 Irish jockeys’ championship title at the start of the week – and there was, a slight one – Colin Keane went to Dundalk on Wednesday evening and kicked three winners home, and all doubt was removed.

“This is Colin Keane’s night,” said Dessie Scahill in commentary as Ben Rumson got up on the far side in the finale on Wednesday night.  “This is Colin Keane’s year.  He’s gone 10 clear, and that’s the championship.”

It has been some week so far for Keane, it has been some year so far for Keane, it has been some career so far for Keane.  You can chart his rise: first ride for his dad Gerry on King Of Kilberry at Dundalk in October 2010, first winner on No Trimmings, also for his dad, also at Dundalk, in December 2010. 

Started with Ger Lyons in 2013, second in the apprentices’ championship in 2013, first Group winner on Brendan Brackan in September 2013, first jockey to Ger Lyons in 2014, champion apprentice in 2014.  Second in the jockeys’ championship in 2015, second in the jockeys’ championship in 2016.

And this week, a week that will end with his first jockeys’ championship, began with his first Group 1 victory, on Laganore for Tony Martin in the Premio Lydia Tesio at Capannelle in Italy.

Keane has gone from debutant to champion in seven years.  Some meteors don’t go that quickly.

He blasted from the gates and got out in front in this year’s championship from early.  There was an expectation that the inevitable challenge that would ensue from nine-time champion Pat Smullen would be difficult to resist, and it was, but, with the not insignificant assistance from his boss Ger Lyons, Keane resisted it all right.

It has been a great tussle between the two riders.  The Keane/Smullen duel for the championship has been one of the bright lights in a sparkling 2017 Flat season.  And for a great duel, you need two protagonists.  Pat Smullen put up some fight, as you knew he would.  He is a great champion, a nonuple champion who has, quite remarkably, finished in the first three in the championship every year since 1999.  You know that he will be back.  He has lost the title before and come back to win it again.

The role that Ger Lyons played in Keane’s championship bid should not be under-estimated.  Overcoming’s victory at Dundalk on Wednesday evening took Lyons’ haul for the season in Ireland to 70, more winners than he has ever had in a season before, second only to Aidan O’Brien in Ireland in 2017.  He had 13 winners in October alone, as against five in October last year.  You can be sure that Keane’s championship victory will mean almost as much to Ger Lyons as it will to Colin Keane. 

So we will not have the battle between Keane and Smullen that we anticipated at Naas tomorrow.  Instead, it will be a lap of honour for Keane.  With 97 winners on the board at the time of writing, three more between Dundalk yesterday evening and Naas tomorrow would bring up a century, and that would just put the cherry on it. 

These are the lush weekends

The Cheltenham Festival towers above all these days, National Huntly speaking.  Of course, those four days in March are four of the most special days on the calendar, and the entire season inexorably funnels into them.  However, these are the golden weekends of the season, the next eight weekends that take us up to Christmas.  These are the lush weekends, rich in quality, stand-alone units which are to be savoured as independent entities without the spectre of the Cheltenham Festival looming.

Weekend 1: Champion Chase, Charlie Hall Chase, Sodexo Gold Cup, Cork Grand National

Weekend 2: Elite Hurdle, Badger Ales Trophy, Lismullen Hurdle, Fortria Chase

Weekend 3: BetVictor Gold Cup, Morgiana Hurdle, Craddockstown Chase

Weekend 4: Ascot Hurdle, Betfair Chase, Troytown Chase

Weekend 5: Ladbrokes Trophy (old Hennessy Gold Cup), Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, Drinmore Chase

Weekend 6: Becher Chase, Tingle Creek Chase, Hilly Way Chase, John Durkan Chase

Weekend 7: Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, International Hurdle, Navan Novice Hurdle

Weekend 8: Long Walk Hurdle, Kennel Gate Hurdle

Then it’s Christmas. 

Beginners’ chase continues to give

The two-mile-six-and-a-half-furlong beginners’ chase at Galway’s October bank holiday meeting, the WB Gavin & Co Irish EBF Beginners Chase, is always a race that is well worth watching.  This is a race that has been won in the past by such luminaries as China Rock, Last Instalment, Jessies Dream, Lyreen Legend and, in 2013, by Don Cossack, and Carlingford Lough was third behind Lyreen Legend in 2012.

This year’s renewal looked strong, with De Plotting Shed, Sutton Manor, Mall Dini and Free Expression all lining up, but Presenting Percy beat them all.

There was a lot to like about the performance that the Pat Kelly-trained gelding put up.  He travelled well through his race for Davy Russell and his jumping was superb for a debutant.  He moved nicely into the Dip and jumped the last two fences well, landing just about in front with De Plotting Shed on his inside over the last.  De Plotting Shed picked up well, but it always looked like Presenting Percy would have his measure, and Philip Reynolds’ horse stayed on strongly up the hill to win by three lengths, with the front pair nicely clear of Champoleon, who stayed on well to take third place.

The winning time was not great, it was a fair way slower than the other two chases run over the same course and distance on the day, but they did not go a great pace in the beginners’ chase, Barry Geraghty was able to engineer his own fractions on Free Expression, and a sedate pace should have been more a negative than a positive for the winner, given how well he stays.

It could be that several of the horses who contested Monday’s race will make their respective marks in staying novice chases this season, but it is Presenting Percy who is the most exciting.  Still just six, he was high-profile and progressive over hurdles last season, he was an impressive winner of the Pertemps Final off a mark of 146 at Cheltenham in March, and the Cheltenham Festival is surely again on connections’ radar already.

Magic can continue to progress

The comparative sectional times for the three chases run over two miles and six and a half furlongs at Galway on Monday make for interesting reading.  These are hand-timed sectionals from the recordings, so there is a significant margin of error but, at least with races over jumps, you can start and stop when horses land over obstacles, which is a more accurate way to be going about things than trying to take rudimentary readings from marker points on the flat.  (The guy with the yellow jacket on the inside of the track always moves.)

The overall time and the visual impression suggested that they went slowly through the early stages of the beginners’ chase, and that notion was confirmed by the sectional times.  Actually, they went over five seconds faster from the starting line to the very first fence in the first handicap chase than they did in the beginners’ chase, and they went almost seven seconds faster in the second handicap chase.

Indeed, they were faster in the first handicap chase than they were in the beginners’ chase at every section, between every fence, with the exception of the section between the final fence and the winning line.  The novices were over six seconds faster on that section, but it still left them around 19 seconds slower for the course and distance than Call It Magic was.

Conclusions?  It was a fine performance in the first handicap chase by Call It Magic, who made all the running at that relatively strong pace under Ruby Walsh and who stayed on strongly up the hill to win well.  He went 19 seconds faster than the novices, and eight seconds faster than they did in the second handicap chase.  Ross O’Sullivan’s horse has now won his two races since he was fitted with a tongue-tie and sent to the front, and Ruby Walsh’s record on him over fences now reads 2111. 

His trainer said afterwards that the Indian River gelding had had a back operation during the summer, and it may be that, as well as or instead of, the blinkers that has ignited an improvement in form.  The handicapper raised him by 8lb to a mark of 140, which is not insignificant, but he remains progressive, this was just his eighth chase, and he will be interesting now in a better handicap chase off that mark.  He has never won over three miles, but he was able to maintain a good consistent gallop here, and he finished strongly, so he could do even better stepped up to three miles.

Grey day

Fitting that the finish of the Monet’s Garden (grey) Old Roan (kindof grey) Chase at Aintree on Sunday should have been fought out by Smad Place (grey) and Cloudy Dream (grey).

© The Irish Field, 4th November 2017