Ready to rumble: young guns Keane and O'Brien go head to head in title race
The combined age of Colin Keane and Donnacha O’Brien is just 43, four years younger than Frankie Dettori, but the two rising stars are preparing themselves for a titanic two-month tussle for the Irish Flat jockeys’ championship.
O’Brien, who turned 20 in July, leads 23-year-old Keane by 11 winners [72-61], but the defending champion is used to the heat and has his sights set on bettering last year’s mammoth feat of riding 100 winners.
Keane traded blows with Pat Smullen last season and when the bell sounded at the end of the final round at Naas in November it was his arm held aloft.
He reached a century of winners on the final day, 12 more than Smullen, and the ambitious young rider does not believe a repeat is out of the question.
Keane said: "I start every season exactly the same way, wanting to better my tally from the previous season, so that means I have to ride 101 winners this season. It won’t be easy.
"It's going to take an awful lot of hard work, I just need to keep my head down and work as hard as I can. If it means I need to do what I did last year to win again, I will. I'm in a very privileged position and am going to relish the challenge and enjoy it.
"It's going to be tricky to catch Donnacha. I've ridden 61 winners this season, a similar total to this stage last season, and am 11 behind.
"It was hard enough last year to try to beat Pat [Smullen] but it looks like it's going to be even tougher this time around against Donnacha. There have been a steady flow of winners all season but I probably need to hit a purple patch at some stage."
Bookmakers believe the task facing Keane is an arduous one. Paddy Power make O’Brien a 1-14 shot to retain his lead, while the title holder can be backed at 6-1.
It might be the first time O’Brien has been in this position but he is looking forward to the months ahead, relishing his battle with Keane.
O'Brien said: "I've been very lucky to have ridden so many nice horses this season. I've enjoyed every single second of it. I would absolutely love to be champion jockey and am going to give it my best shot.
"I've not set myself a target or anything like that. I would just be happy to be champion, no matter how many winners it will mean I have to ride. It won’t be easy and Colin will push me every step of the way I’d imagine."
Paddy Power make O'Brien 7-4 to reach a century of winners for the first time and spokesman Paul Binfield said: "Donnacha looks home and hosed.
"While he now looks very likely to follow in the illustrious steps of his older brother Joseph, who scooped the title twice, the only thing that looks likely to prevent him from becoming a multiple champion is, as a tall lad, his weight."
Irish Flat jockeys' title
Paddy Power: 1-14 Donnacha O’Brien, 6 Colin Keane, 40 Declan McDonogh, 100 Chris Hayes
To ride 100-plus winners this season
Paddy Power: 7-4 Donnacha O'Brien, 8 Colin Keane
Winners this season 72
Level stakes profit/loss -15.76
Winners in 2017 61
Title odds 1-14
To ride 100-plus winners odds 7-4
Winners this season 61
Level stakes profit/loss -140.04
Winners in 2017 100
Title odds 6-1
To ride 100+ winners odds 8-1
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