Cork racing: Young jockey Darragh O'Keeffe continues to impress

Cork racing: Young jockey Darragh O'Keeffe continues to impress
Darragh O'Keeffe after winning the Kelly Foley O'Connor Pyne Handicap Steeplechase. Picture: Healy Racing

THE winners keep coming for Doneraile jockey Darragh O'Keeffe.

Darragh was 18 years of age when he rode his first winner on the Enda Bolger-trained William Du Berlais at Killarney in July 2018. His career was well and truly up and running when partnered the same horse to win again just five days later at Tipperary.

Darragh became champion conditional jockey for the 2019/2020 season. He won the title with a record 45 winners, one more than Jack Kennedy’s winning total in the 2015/2016 season.

He has already enjoyed big-race success, Ballyoisin gave Darragh notable early success when winning the €100,000 Ladbrokes Ireland Listowel Handicap Hurdle at the Listowel festival.

Darragh rode his 60th winner and rode out his claim when landing the Cork Grand National on the Michael Hourigan-trained The Gatechecker in early November 2019. A special day at his local track.

O'Keeffe would have had high hopes heading into this year but the whole Covid-19 situation brought everything to a standstill. 

"The whole Coronavirus pandemic has been tough going. It was strange not going racing but everyone was in the same boat."

Since the return of racing, O'Keeffe has been rolling in the winners. 

"Things going great since we returned. I'm still with Enda (Bolger) full time and I'm getting fantastic support. My agent Gary Gribbin is doing a great job."

Rhythm Divine and Darragh O'Keeffe win the Mullacurry Cup Handicap Hurdle. Picture: Healy Racing
Rhythm Divine and Darragh O'Keeffe win the Mullacurry Cup Handicap Hurdle. Picture: Healy Racing

At the time of writing, Darragh O'Keeffe has ridden seven winners for the month of August. It all started when the Cork jockey made the long spin to Downpatrick to guide Rhythm Divine to success in the Maiden Hurdle, he said: "It's a pretty long spin, you're talking over four and a half hours from Mallow with a stop on the way up. She was very good that day, she has black type in the book and is an improving type. I was lucky enough to win on her again since at Bellewstown."

O'Keeffe was aboard Happy Jacky at Tipperary recently and he spoke highly of her: "She was very impressive at Tipperary. The ground was very soft and she really enjoyed it. There should be more to come from her and Ray (Hackett) will have some nice targets for her."

Other recent winners included a pair at winners at Killarney, a happy hunting ground for Darragh O'Keeffe. He was seen to great effect aboard Crazywork De Vassy in the Handicap Chase and West Cork Mildway in a Maiden Hurdle. 

Speaking on the Killarney success, he said: "Killarney is one of my favourite places. I've enjoyed some great days down there."

Last week we spoke about the recent success of trainer Liam Burke and O'Keeffe was on the mark for the in-form trainer at the recent Tramore festival. Yaiza, a nine-year-old gelding came out best in a battle with City Limits on the run-in of the extended two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle. 

"It was nice to ride another winner for Liam Burke. His horses are in great form and it's great for Liam."

One of the country's top young jockeys finished up by saying: "Hopefully I can bring this momentum forward with me and the winners will follow." 

He is certainly worth following going forward.

In other racing news, eight meetings, kicking off with Doncaster’s Pertemps St Leger Festival, are set to be staged with crowds next month as part of the Government’s pilot scheme to return spectators to elite sport.

The St Leger meeting, which runs from September 9-12, Warwick on September 21 and Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire Meeting from September 24-26 will all permit racegoers, with Doncaster planning for a maximum of 3,640 general admissions on Wednesday, rising to 6,202 on the final three days of the fixture.

The pilot events in England are designed to test stage five of the Government’s return to elite sport plan, as well as operating protocols set out by the Sports Ground Safety Authority. Hopefully, we can see the same things introduced on Irish shores in the coming weeks.

In the UK, Racing has taken place behind closed doors since the resumption of the sport on June 1, although owners have been permitted back on track since Derby day at Epsom on July 4, and last week a small number of on-course bookmakers also returned.

A previous plan to trial a crowd during Glorious Goodwood had to be shelved when Government advice was updated following concern about the possibility of a new spike in Covid-19 cases.

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