Colin Keane edges one ahead of Pat Smullen in jockeys’ title race

Total Recall lands Munster National in a canter for Willie Mullins

There may be lies, damned lies and statistics but Colin Keane’s sole success at Navan on Sunday indicates the final four weeks of Ireland’s 2017 flat campaign will be dominated by the jockeys’ championship and its black and white tot for supremacy.

With Pat Smullen on duty in New York on Sunday night, the 23-year-old young pretender to the throne secured a vital winner and now leads his rival 82-81.

At a time when Aidan O’Brien’s remorseless addition of Group One victories has some bookmakers paying out on the champion trainer beating the top-flight world record, the fight for the domestic jockey’s crown is proving as unpredictable as it is enthralling.

Gowran on Wednesday will be the first of 13 remaining meetings and as the pressure rises with less than 100 races left there seems no one more calm than the young man in the middle of it.


In the past Smullen has overcome the likes of Mick Kinane and Johnny Murtagh for the championship. All this is unfamiliar territory for Keane yet he continues to rise to the challenge even if the older man is generally odds-on for a tenth title after a four-timer at Dundalk on Friday night.

On Sunday Ger Lyons supplied Keane's winner Gobi Desert in the Listed Legacy Stakes and removed his hat afterwards, inviting scrutiny of hair the trainer insists will contain grey by November as he tries to keep his protégé in front.

“I’ve never seen so much of Pat Smullen. I’m looking at every move he makes. But the more the pressure is upped the more relaxed Colin is becoming. He’s incredible. But he’s made for the job and is riding better than ever,” Lyons said.

“I’m ticking off each week, trying to protect his lead and I would be very disappointed if Colin’s beaten now. But it’s going to be a long four weeks. We worked 50 horses the other day but they won’t all run and really we’re running on fumes now,” he added.

The Smullen team have wryly pointed to similar statements by Lyons throughout the second half of the season yet the Co Meath trainer continues to only have O'Brien and Jim Bolger in front of him in Ireland's trainer's table.

Principal opposition

Lyons has 60 winners already and Keane’s title pursuit could crown a best ever campaign for the Glenburnie operation. It’s a notable achievement considering how their principal opposition now threatens to extend its European domination to the rest of the world.

Roly Poly’s Sun Chariot success on Saturday was O’Brien’s 23rd Group One of 2017 – just two shy of Bobby Frankel’s 2003 record – and he is even odds-on to reach 30 before the end of the year.

September could lead the Ballydoyle trainer’s challenge on Friday’s Fillies Mile in Newmarket. A day later the trio of US Navy Flag, Seahenge and Threeandfourpence are in the mix for the Dewhurst. And prior to that on Saturday morning both Johannes Vermeer and Taj Mahal are on target to run in the $1 million Caulfield Stakes in Melbourne.

The Caulfield race is one of a lucrative series of international contests leading up to the Breeders Cup in Del Mar which has the potential to be something of a Ballydoyle benefit in the San Diego sun.

However O’Brien has again played down the importance of the Frankel record and said on Saturday: “It would be incredible for everyone but the horse always comes first. That’s the important thing.”

There will be other Irish interest in the Caulfield Stakes with the Willie Mullins -trained Riven Light who will be ridden by the triple-Melbourne Cup winning jockey Glen Boss.

Mullins was out of luck in Sunday’s Irish Cesarewitch at Navan when his 9-2 favourite Gustavus Vassa ran too keen and finished out of the money behind the surprise 25-1 winner Lord Erskine.

Keane had to settle for the runner-up spot a second time in the afternoon as Snow Falcon came up short, just as Accalia had in an earlier five furlong handicap won by Enter The Red.

However Mullins produced another master-class at Limerick when his new recruit Total Recall turned the €100,000 JT McNamara Ladbrokes Munster National into a procession.

Switched to Mullins after Sandra Hughes's retirement, and without a start since February, the well backed 2-1 favourite sliced through the field to beat Alpaha Des Obeaux by an easy seven lengths under Ruby Walsh.

“He jumped super and was obviously well taught as a novice. He’s a very loose horse, like an elastic band, and has great use of himself,” Walsh reported.

“He had a great racing weight on his back which is a huge plus and I’d say the runner-up has run an unbelievable race with topweight on his first run for a while,” he added.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column