CHAMPION conditional jockey Darragh O’Keeffe is hoping to build on his superb season last term.
The 20-year-old Doneraile native took the racing world by storm when capturing the fiercely competitive conditional riders’ championship and in doing so he finished fifth in the over all standing in the national hunt jockey’s championship.
“Landing the conditional title was brilliant, the whole season last term was dreamlike, at the start of the year if you told me that I would ride a hat-trick at the Galway Festival, ride at the Cheltenham Festival and land the Cork National at my home track, I would have said you were mad.
“My plan was simply to build up as many contacts as I could and hopefully ride a few winners along the way, I am very lucky to have the services of jockeys’ agent Garry Cribbin, he did an excellent job getting me on horses for a host of different trainers."
O’Keeffe who comes from a family steeped in racing is based with one of the best jumps trainers in the business and has the support of one of the leading owners in the sport.
“To be working at Enda Bolger’s magnificent training facility is fantastic, I look forward to going to work every day, it’s a thrill to be schooling over Enda’s world-renowned banks. Since I arrived there, he has been very good to be, and he has given me plenty of opportunities which I have grabbed with both hands.
"I am very honoured to have the backing of JP McManus who has shown his faith in me by letting me ride a few of his horses, I also am very grateful to his racing manager Frank Berry for his loyal support.”
When the talented rider won the Cork National at the Mallow racecourse, it turned out to be a red-letter day for the north Cork native, that win was his 60-career victory which resulted in him losing his claim.
“That was a great day, to land the feature contest on the Gatechecker for Michael Hourigan at my local track was brilliant, I had also ridden out my claim, which meant I was now riding against the top professional without a weight advantage. The winners started to slow down a tad, but I was still very pleased to be ridding at nearly every race meeting for a group of loyal owners.”
Racing in Ireland is hugely competitive, its very difficult for young lads starting off to get established, this can result in plenty young Irish jockeys heading across channel to ply their trade.
“Its very hard for a lot of lads to get going here, the most important advice that I can give any aspiring rider is to surround yourself with good people that you can trust. Work as hard as you can and try to get into a progressive yard. If you put in the work the results will come.
"I also see nothing wrong going to the UK for a few years to learn your trade, it easier to get rides over there as they have more racing.”
Like most top sports people success is what motivates O’Keeffe, the more he tastes the more he wants.
“I get a lot of motivation from working at Enda’s, its great to be riding work on talented horses, obviously I hope that I will be ridding some of these inside the rails, riding big race winners is terrific but I get a kick from every winner, the more winners I have the hungrier and more motivated I become.”
Darragh O’Keeffe is one of the most naturally gifted riders currently plying their trade in this country, during a race he is more times than not in the correct position, horses relax and jump for him and he is strong in a finish. O’Keeffe is still learning his craft and he looks up to a few of the senior riders in the weigh room for advice and inspiration.
“I love to watch Davy Russell, I think he a brilliant rider, he so natural on a horse, and he is very strong, in Ireland we are a wash with talented riders which is great, and I love learning from them.”