AT the recent Leopardstown festival Cork jockey Darragh O’Keeffe offered more evidence that he is a young man rapidly going places when guiding A Plus Tard to success in a thrilling renewal of the Grade 1 Savills Chase.
As readers of the Echo will know, we have been highlighting the success of the Doneraile rider since he rode his first winner below in Killarney, over two years ago.
O’Keeffe was champion conditional rider in the 2019/20 season and he has already enjoyed plenty of big-race success along the way. However, to get the nod from Hendy De Bromhead to ride A Plus Tard in the Grade 1 was another major boost for the young man's career.
Speaking to the Echo, O'Keeffe said: "I was over the moon to get the ride, it's Leopardstown at Christmas and I'm so grateful to Henry and the Cheveley Park stud for giving me the opportunity."
For A Plus Tard, it was a second Grade 1 success at this meeting, having downed Chacun Pour Soi over two miles at the 2019 Christmas Festival. O'Keeffe was seen to great effect aboard A Plus Tard, getting a big jump at the last, he then went into overdrive and the horse pulled out all the stops to deny Kemboy and Melon, both of whom are trained by Champion trainer, Willie Mullins.
O'Keeffe added: "It was a great day all round, my family at home got a great kick out of it. I've been reading books from the likes of Barry Geraghty, Ruby Walsh and Tony McCoy. They've all said that you need to get a good horse or win a big race early on in your career, so it was exceptional for my career and hopefully, it will bring us more opportunities."
A product of the pony racing circuit, O'Keeffe started off with Enda Bolger and he rode a significant number of winners in the famous colours of JP McManus. His first career win was aboard William Du Berlais, at Killarney, a place where he has enjoyed plenty of success. He has come a long way in the meantime, to be one of the most promising jump riders in the country.
Prior to the impressive grade 1 victory, there was also big race success for O'Keeffe, when he gave Chatham Street Lad a peach of a ride to win the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, by a wide margin, for popular Kantuck trainer, Mick Winters. Winters attracted plenty of headlines with his colourful response to a first victory at the home of jump racing. Connections will have some big race targets going forward and one would imagine, O'Keeffe will be the man steering the rapidly improving chaser.
O'Keeffe has already got 2021 off to a flying start, wins aboard Lessofdnegativity, at Tramore and Velvet Elvis, at his local track, Cork. "It's great to have got the new year off to the flyer," said O'Keeffe. "It was great to ride a winner for Andrew (McNamara) on New Year's Day, he was feeling a bit under the weather the last few months and he has been supporting me since day one. It's great to ride winners for people like that, who get a great kick out of it."
Like all jockeys, O'Keeffe will be counting down the days to the Cheltenham festival. The Cheltenham Festival is one of the biggest events on the horse racing calendar, with many of the best Irish horses featuring. With prize money second to only the Grand National, all eyes turn to the Cheltenham Racecourse every March.
It will be a totally different festival this year as it's almost certain that it will take place behind closed doors. In saying that, it will be still a special occasion with the best jump horses in training in opposition.
"Look hopefully we will get the chance to ride a few horses over, we will be doing our best to make the most of the opportunities we get."
Just 20-years-young, the future is very bright for young Cork jockey, Darragh O'Keeffe.
Ante-post favourite Chacun Pour Soi heads five entries from the all-conquering Willie Mullins stable among a total of 31 for this year's Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Alongside the market leader, Mullins has entered Min, Cilaos Emery, Cash Back and Tornado Flyer in pursuit of the two-mile steeplechasing crown he has yet to win. The race takes place on Wednesday, March 17.
These include novice Chatham Street Lad a 15-length winner of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham in December for Mick Winters and jockey Darragh O'Keeffe. The Henry de Bromhead-trained A Plus Tard, the winning mount of O'Keeffe in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown last month is not entered.
He will be aimed at longer distances. As expected, the brilliant Alitor and his recent Kempton conqueror Nube Negra are both in the field, In other news, Horse Racing Ireland has announced new dates for the race meetings that have been lost to the weather this week. Fairyhouse will now be held tomorrow, January 12. Clonmel will take place tomorrow week. While Naas will now run on January 13.