Donnacha O'Brien deflects talk of retirement after retaining his crown
It was a case of 111 not out for Donnacha O'Brien at Naas on Sunday as the 21-year-old retained his champion jockey title after a prolonged duel with Colin Keane but was not talking about retirement.
O'Brien refused to comment on speculation of his retirement from the saddle, although he has already set up a training establishment in Longfield with his father Aidan confirming that the unbeaten Fancy Blue was under his wing after she won for a second time at the Curragh last month.
But the two-time champion preferred to revel in the present rather than get fixated on the future after Nobel Prize brought his tally to 111 for the campaign.
That was eight more than Keane in a historic season as it was the first time two jockeys reached a century of winners in Ireland.
"You are all absolutely mad for me to retire!" said O'Brien when asked the question. "The plan is the same as always, I will take it one year at a time and it is nice to get this one out of the way.
"I am looking forward to taking a break and thinking about things. We'll see," added O'Brien tantalisingly.
It was a wonderful weekend for the O'Brien brothers with Joseph becoming the youngest ever Breeders' Cup-winning trainer thanks to Iridessa in the Filly & Mare Turf and Donnacha completed a terrific 24 hours for the family by sealing back-to-back titles on home soil.
The champion jockey was forced to play catch-up for most of the season as Keane set a blistering pace but an impressive October return of 21 winners sealed the deal.
O'Brien said: "It was a good, old battle and I was glad to come out on top. Obviously your first championship is very special but it was great to get to back it up.
"It really did feel like a proper battle this year. I don't know what Colin made of it all, but I found that whenever I wasn't riding in a race I would be looking out for whatever Colin was riding and see how he is getting on. In the last few weeks it felt as though we were both riding to beat each other so it really did feel like a good, old battle and I enjoyed it."
O'Brien was full of praise for the runner-up who made him pull out all the stops to defend his title.
"For both of us to ride over 100 winners shows how good of a rider Colin is too. He wouldn't have the ammunition I have, so for him to ride so many winners is a credit to him," said the champion jockey.
Pressed whether or not he is ruling out a third championship, O'Brien replied: "I'm not saying anything."
Keane, the 2017 champion, was unable to regain his title but it was not for a lack of effort as his 103 winners was the highest total ever posted by a runner-up.
The 25-year-old was focusing on the positives of the season and singled out Siskin's Group 1 success in the Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh in August as his personal highlight.
"It was a tough battle. It didn't quite come off but we have still had a great year. To break 100 winners and to have our first domestic Group 1 winner was brilliant, and we won the first million pound Ebor as well so, all in all, it has been a great year. Obviously, it would have been great to be champion jockey again, but Donnacha is a deserving winner. We both rode over 100 winners so I can't complain," said Keane.
He added: "At the end of it all Donnacha deserved it. He has to work very hard on his weight so fair dues to him, he deserves it.
"Siskin has to be the highlight. Just the way he improved from run to run."
Reflecting on Siskin's withdrawal from the Middle Park Stakes after he reared up in the stalls, Keane added: "It was a shock what he did at Newmarket, it was more of a shock than a disappointment as the one thing we could always count on was his attitude and his behaviour.
"It was completely out of character for him to do that but hopefully we have something to dream about over the winter."
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