Flat racing review of the year: Colin will be Keane to capitalise on 2021 gains

Mooneista ridden by Colin Keane on the way to winning the Paddy Power Sapphire Stakes (Group 2) at Curragh Racecourse in July
Picture: Brian Lawless/PA 

COLIN Keane has quietly become the best jockey in Ireland over the past few years.

In 2021 he broke new ground with 141 domestic winners, smashing the record set by Joseph O'Brien eight years previously.

A third jockey's title was added to his list of achievements as the 27-year-old established himself as the leading rider in this country.

All this has been achieved without the backing of one of the traditional powerhouses of Irish racing making his progression to the top all the more impressive.

There were a couple of Group One victories on the board last year as well but the question now is what is the next step for Keane?

We have only seen glimpses of what he can do on the biggest stage and for such a transcendent talent he should really be operating at the top table globally on a regular basis.

One of his Group One successes came for Noel Meade in the Tattersalls Gold Cup while Aidan O'Brien called upon his services for Broome in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.

Rumours abound that the Coolmore operation may come a-calling for his services at some stage but Ger Lyons will hear none of it.

He spotted talent at an early stage and is very proud of his huge role in making the champion.

The Glenburnie trainer supplied him with 77 winners last term while a new link up with Dermot Weld yielded 25 successes.

Lyons is building up the quality of his team year on year and had another terrific season capped off with a 1,000th career winner.

2020 saw him make the breakthrough at the highest level with Classic wins for Siskin and Even So.

There were no Group One winners for the yard in 2021 but he did unearth some classy juvenile prospects in Atomic Jones and Sacred Bridge.

His link up with Juddmonte has brought a better class of animal into the yard but he still has some way to go to match the might of Ballydoyle.

It was interesting to see Keane link up with the master of Rosewell House as he has some striking similarities to Dermot Weld's previous stable jockeys.

Both Mick Kinane and the late great Pat Smullen were consummate professionals who exuded class and could be relied upon on the biggest of occasions.

Their cool unflappable personalities brought an understated brilliance in the saddle that seems to feed through to the horses.

Keane is unerringly good and is tactically on another level to his peers on the domestic scene at present.

A move down to Tipperary would seem an obvious career progression at some point but he is also the 'go-to man' for many Irish trainers on the big day and could find himself called upon by a plethora of handlers.

Ado McGuinness has made a name for himself with shrewd purchases in recent years and saddled his first Group One winner  in 2021

IT was encouraging last year to see more Irish trainers competing at the top table and 2021 saw Ado McGuinness saddle his first Group One winner.

The popular Lusk handler has made a name for himself with shrewd purchases in recent years and has improved the quality of his charges year on year.

A Case Of You developed into one of the top sprinters in the country culminating in a last-gasp victory in the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp, under Ronan Whelan.

Aidan O'Brien collected a remarkable 24th Champion Trainers gong but despite 18 top level winners some felt that it wasn't a vintage year for the Ballydoyle operation.

That may in large be due to the fact that his star performer earned his classic stripes in France as opposed to in the English and Irish versions.

St Mark's Basilica really stamped his brilliance on the season when running out a impressive winner of the Coral Eclipse forcing the press to sit up and take notice.

He only beat three others in the Irish Champion Stakes but it was one of the races of the season nonetheless as he edged out Tarnawa and Poetic Flare in a cracking finish.

It was a touch disappointing that he was bundled off to stud after that but it wasn't surprising given his potential value to Coolmore.

The emerging force in Irish racing over the last few years has been O'Brien's son Joseph and he actually trained the most winners last season with 108 on the board, 20 more than his father.

He has built a massive training operation down in the Kilkenny and there seems to be more focus now on the Flat in Pilltown.

The highlight of his season was an audacious raid for one of the big Australian prizes, the Cox Plate.

State Of Rest had to endure a gruelling series of veterinary checks before lining up at Moonee Valley in October.

The globetrotting three-year-old just prevailed by a short-head in the ten furlong contest to justify connections jumping through reams of red tape.

Jim Bolger hit the headlines a few times during the year and Poetic Flare brought the master of Coolcullen back to the big time with his 2,000 Guineas victory.

He was narrowly denied the Guineas double at the Curragh when losing out to stablemate Mac Swiney, as long time stable number two Rory Cleary had his biggest day in the saddle.

Bolger was also in the news during the summer after an incendiary interview with Paul Kimmage in which he claimed to know the identity of trainers that had been 'doping' horses.

The veteran trainer declined to give evidence to an Oireachtas committee which subsequently gave a vote of confidence to current drug testing procedures.

Racing doesn't help itself sometimes when it comes to negative headlines but continues to punch above it's weight on an international stage.

Ballydoyle lead the way and will undoubtedly continue to do so for a long time but there was a healthy spread of top prizes in 2021.

With some real emerging forces like Paddy Twomey and Michael O'Callaghan testing the waters in Group One company last season it won't be long before we see more Irish trainers in the winners enclosure on the biggest days.

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