Colin Keane will follow in the footsteps of storied compatriots when he embarks for Hong Kong and the LONGINES International Jockeys’ Championship at Happy Valley (Wednesday, 5th December).
The Irishman, 24, is the sole newcomer among the world class line-up of international talent featuring Ryan Moore, Javier Castellano, Hugh Bowman and Yutaka Take.
“It’s a great opportunity to go in against some of the best in the world and I’ll be asking a few jockeys who’ve ridden at Happy Valley before about what to expect,” said Ireland’s 2017 champion jockey.
He will be the 12th Irish-born rider to compete in the HK$800,000 competition. Johnny Murtagh won the title in a three-way tie in 2009 while greats of former days Pat Eddery, Mick Kinane and Kieren Fallon also experienced the thrills of the world’s foremost jockeys’ challenge.
Keane, a son of Irish trainer Gerry Keane, proved a precocious talent in the saddle, riding 85 winners on the famed “pony racing” circuit in Ireland before starting his career as an apprentice jockey as a 16-year-old.
The County Meath native finished second in the race for the title of Irish Champion Apprentice in 2013 and ran away with that honour in 2014 by riding 54 winners. And 2014 was also the year he was made stable jockey to prominent Irish trainer Ger Lyons.
Lyons is well used to exporting horses to Hong Kong – he trained the smart Dinozzo, Insayshable and Doctor Geoff before they made their way east – and is the perfect man to provide insight into what Keane brings to his first LONGINES IJC.
“I can’t wait for the world to see what he can do,” Lyons said. “Colin is a lovely, unassuming lad who works incredibly hard and as soon as he came to me as a 7lb claimer I knew we had something special.
“He’s so sharp out of the gate in a race, he knows just where to be as things develop, and if he is out the back in the early stages then you know it’s for a good reason. A trip like this is very important to him and, if the gods smile on him, I’ve no doubt that he can prove a match for Ryan Moore and all those top riders.”
Keane hardly needs a spokesman with a fervent supporter like Lyons in his corner but his laid-back approach almost resulted in him missing out on the IJC trip.
“I can be slow opening emails but luckily my girlfriend Kerri (Lyons’s daughter) spotted the Hong Kong invitation just before the deadline,” the jockey recalled.
Keane has gone from strength to strength in recent years, culminating in a remarkable 2017 that saw him partner 100 winners to be crowned champion jockey in Ireland after a titanic struggle with previous champ and former IJC contestant Pat Smullen.
That year also saw him gain his first Group 1 win on Laganore in the Premio Lydia Tesio at Capannelle in Italy, and although he had to cede his champion jockey crown to Donnacha O’Brien in 2018, he still finished second with a fine total of 84 winners.
Lyons said, “It was the highlight of my career to help make Colin champion jockey.” But he is fully aware that there is a next level his stable jockey can now aspire to.
“Michael Kinane started travelling the world to show how good Irish jockeys are all those years ago and then Johnny Murtagh took up the lead,” he said.
“I always think what’s meant for you won’t go past you and Colin is ready for this exposure. I know he’ll make a good impression as a person and I’d love to see him win a race on a night like this at Happy Valley just to show people how good he really is.”
The LONGINES IJC is an annual four-race competition featuring 12 of the world’s best jockeys and is a highlight of the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, a week-long celebration of elite horse racing.