Donn's Articles » Colin Keane

Colin Keane

Barretta made his racecourse debut in the one-mile maiden at Navan last Saturday.  Drawn a little wider than ideal, Colin Keane had the racecourse debutant away nicely and across, quickly into his racing rhythm in mid-division, fast enough to get his position in the race, but not fast enough to use up early energy unnecessarily.

As it turned out, Barretta probably could have gone faster and wider and still won.  When the rider gave his horse a squeeze on the run to the two-furlong marker, he picked up nicely, he hit the front on the run to the furlong pole, and he cleared away to win by five and a half lengths.  But nobody knew whether or not Barretta was the best horse in the race when they lined up at the start and, if he was, how much he had in hand.  Indeed, the pre-race market suggested that he wasn’t the most likely winner. 

But the ride that his partner gave him was one of optimum efficiency, distributed his energy evenly through the race, maximised his chance of winning, and that is Colin Keane all over.  More than that, it appeared that Ger Lyons’ horse enjoyed the experience, went to the line willingly, stretched out impressively, hands and heels.  He should progress for the run, his first experience of racing, bursting to go racing again.

Barretta was Colin Keane’s 100th winner in Ireland this season.  We hadn’t got to the end of August, and the rider had reached a hundred.  Over two months of the season still to run.  To put it into context, a hundred winners in an entire season is almost always enough to win the jockeys’ championship.  When Joseph O’Brien reached a record total of 126 winners in a season in Ireland in 2013, he didn’t get to a hundred until the kids were back at school.  Joseph O’Brien’s record haul is within Keane’s range now in 2021.

“Every year, we set out to beat the previous year’s total,” says Keane.  “We just hit the ground running this year, the horses have been in such good form.  It’s just been winner after winner, we’re just very fortunate, and my agent (Ruairi Tierney) has done a great job in getting me on winners when we weren’t riding for Mr Weld or the boss.”

The boss is Ger Lyons, who himself reached a milestone 1000th winner of his training career when Offiah won at Roscommon on Monday.  The boss has been Ger Lyons for a while.  It is a relationship that has grown and thrived since February 2013, when the trainer booked the rider to ride Shukhov for him in an apprentices’ race at Dundalk.

“I was looking for a job,” says Colin.  “My dad (Gerry) was downsizing at the time, he was saying that I needed to go somewhere else, and I was thinking about going to England when I went in to Ger’s to sit on Shukhov before that apprentices’ race.  I kind of asked Ger for a job just riding out then, and it just went from there.” 

Keane was only 18 at the time, he had ridden just 23 winners in his career, but Ger Lyons obviously recognised his talent from early.  Quickly, he was putting his young rider up in big races, on big days, and his rider was delivering.  Keane rode Brendan Brackan to win the big Topaz Mile at the Galway Festival in July 2013, claiming 5lb.  It was a milestone win.  He couldn’t utilise his claim in the Group 3 Solonaway Stakes at The Curragh six weeks later, but Lyons retained faith in his young rider, gave him the responsibility, and the apprentice rider repaid that faith, driving Brendan Brackan to a two-length victory.

The following year, although still only 19, Lyons entrusted Colin Keane with the role as his number one rider.

“I probably thought that Ger was a bit mad at the time!  Putting such faith in a young lad, given how little experience I had.  But obviously he saw something that most people, including me, didn’t see at the time.  I’m very grateful for that.”

Keane thrived at Lyons’, they thrived together, and the milestones flashed past.  Thirty-five winners in 2013 grew to 77 by 2016 and runner-up in the jockeys’ championship.  The following year, he reached 100 winners and, at the end of a mammoth struggle with the perennial champion, the late and much-missed Pat Smullen, he was crowned champion jockey for the first time.

Keane has reached 100 winners in each of the last three seasons now, and the Group 1 wins have rolled in.  Laganore for Tony Martin in the Premio Lydia Tesio in Italy, Siskin in the Phoenix Stakes for Ger Lyons, Siskin in the Irish 2000 Guineas last year under one of the rides of the season.  Even So in the Irish Oaks.  

On Irish Champions’ Weekend last year, Keane drove Champers Elysees home in the Matron Stakes, thereby providing Johnny Murtagh with his first Group 1 win as a trainer.  He rode Helvic Dream to win in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh last May, a first Group 1 win on the flat for Noel Meade, getting home by a short head from Broome, whom he then rode for Aidan O’Brien to win the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in July.

Colin Keane has already ridden Group or Grade 1 winners for six different trainers.

He was having lunch at Keeneland, Kentucky, in November last year – over to ride Siskin in the Breeders’ Cup Mile – when he heard the news that Christophe Soumillon had tested positive for Covid-19 and wouldn’t be able to ride Tarnawa in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.  A few minutes later, his phone rang and he was asked to deputise.  And so began a relationship with Tarnawa’s trainer Dermot Weld that has been a constant since.

Right place right time, he says, but that is to downplay the significance of his immense talent, and of how it is universally recognised now, by the best judges.  He has had more rides and more winners for Dermot Weld than any other rider this season, and this despite the fact that his main loyalty obviously is to Ger Lyons.

Tarnawa had a nice break after her famous victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf in America in November, and she warmed up for her engagement in the Irish Champion Stakes next Saturday with an impressive performance in landing the Group 3 Ballyroan Stakes at Leopardstown last month. 

“She was very good in the Ballyroan.  She relaxed nicely, travelled into the race well and picked up very nicely.  We’re coming back two furlongs, which I don’t think will be too much of a problem.  She’s not a slow filly, she travels strongly and has a good turn of foot.  It’s going to be a very good race.  It should be a great weekend.  These are the races we all want to ride in, the best horses, against the best riders.”

More milestones ahead.

© The Sunday Times 5th September 2021