Jockey Darragh O’Keeffe right on form for the Cheltenham Festival

Doneraile native has already ridden over 50 winners this season and will have opportunities in the handicaps at Cheltenham
Jockey Darragh O’Keeffe right on form for the Cheltenham Festival

Darragh O’Keeffe winner of the Emerging Talent Award in 2019. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

CORK'S Darragh O’Keeffe is enjoying another brilliant season and has the Cheltenham Festival firmly in his sights. 

Having already ridden over 50 winners this season the young Cork man is lying third on the Jockeys Table behind Mark Walsh and Lisgoold's Paul Townend. That is a remarkable achievement considering O’Keeffe doesn’t have the backing of a major yard as a retained rider. 

He is a man clearly in demand judging by the number of trainers who have used him to ride winners this season.  The Doneraile native is finalising his plans for the Olympics of jump racing while riding out some of the biggest stars of the game in their final pieces of work. 

While he is unlikely to have too many rides in the graded races, the Cheltenham Festival will provide him with opportunities in the handicaps. He has become an integral part of the Henry De Bromhead operation, but this rising star is taking it all in his stride.

“It’s been a great season up to now and having surpassed last year’s tally of 44 winners I will keep it going now as far as Punchestown," O’Keeffe said. "We will have the big meetings at Cork and Fairyhouse over the Easter so we have a nice bit of the season to complete yet. 

"Everything is all geared up now for Cheltenham so it’s all systems go at this stage for everyone including us jockeys. 

Having the crowds back will be fantastic as it certainly was a bit lonely without them last year. This will be my third festival so it’s a great thrill going out to ride in front of 60,000 people. 

"I’ll probably have a couple of rides each day in the handicaps and who knows what opportunities will appear during the week. 

Darragh O’Keeffe on Longhouse Poet holds off Paul Townend on Franco De Port. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Darragh O’Keeffe on Longhouse Poet holds off Paul Townend on Franco De Port. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

"Plans will be finalised over the coming days at declaration time. It’s so competitive over there and everyone wants a Cheltenham winner."

ROUTINE 

For a young jockey making his way in this great game of ours chasing that first-ever Cheltenham winner will always be top of the list. 

The Doneraile native is certainly kept busy and dividing his time with some of the leading trainers in the country. 

“A normal week involves a couple of days riding out for Martin Brassil at the Curragh. There is always at least one day a week with Henry De Bromhead and there are so many talented horses at his yard. 

"Gavin Cromwell and Tom Gibney are other yards up the country that support me. Enda Bolger has been a great tutor and a great supporter of mine over the years, so I get down to his place as well. 

"This season has gone great up to now and my agent has done a terrific job getting me so many new connections. 

"Obviously, I’ve had plenty of luck with the Cork trainers down here and every winner gets you noticed in this game.” 

In his role with all-conquering De Bromhead team he will have been riding out some of the biggest stars in the game including A Plus Tard, Minella Indo and the brilliant Bob Olinger who stormed to victory at last season’s festival in the Ballymore Novice Hurdle. 

The clash between Bob Olinger and Galopin Des Champs is being billed as the race of the week as both horses are unbeaten over fences while both were winners at last year’s festival. 

O’Keeffe rode Bob Olinger on his first run over fences this season as Rachael Blackmore was winning on A Plus Tard in the Betfair Chase at Haydock the same afternoon. 

“It was great to get the call up on that day and he won nicely at Gowran. Some people are saying that Bob Olinger isn’t the most natural of jumpers, but he has a serious engine and is such a talented horse. 

"It’ll be a cracking race on Thursday with the Mullins horse, but I certainly wouldn’t be swapping our lad. Bob Olinger is in serious form and is one of the most exciting horses in training.” 

Chasing that elusive first winner brings its own pressures on the Cotswolds. 

Riding around this track brings new challenges and producing horses late has been a great recipe for success. 

Judging the fractions around here is all part of the learning curve. 

 Chatham Street Lad and Darragh O’Keeffe winning The Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap Chase for trainer Mick Winters. Picture: Healy Racing.
Chatham Street Lad and Darragh O’Keeffe winning The Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap Chase for trainer Mick Winters. Picture: Healy Racing.

Darragh O’Keeffe has made eye-catching progress over the last couple of seasons.

“It certainly is a track that you must get everything spot on. My rides will include a couple for Martin Brassil. In the Boodles Fred Winter Doctor Brown Bear runs and is probably my best each/way chance. 

"In the Mares Novice Hurdle, I’ll ride Choice of Words who was Journey with Me the last day. I will ride a couple for Henry (De Bromhead) and Dancing On My Own might be one for the Grand Annual. 

"We will be travelling over on Monday morning and ride out a few horses on arrival. 

"The Gold Cup looks open enough but A Plus Tard and Minella Indo will have big chances and will be bang there.  The latter comes alive around Cheltenham and is the defending Champion. 

"Journey With Me will have a chance in the Ballymore Novice Hurdle and Henry has a great ability to get his horses right on the big days. 

"It is going to be a busy week anyway, so fingers crossed it goes well.”

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