MICHAEL KINANE, the greatest flat jockey this country has ever produced, finally confirmed the rumours which had been rife in racing for a number of weeks when announcing his retirement yesterday.
In a statement issued to the Press Association, the 50-year-old said: “I have decided this is the right time to retire from race-riding.
“At fifty, I still feel fit and sharp enough to do any horse justice, but after the season I have just had, in partnership with Sea The Stars, I have the privilege of being able to end my career as a jockey on an incredible high and that’s what I want to do.
“I leave with a huge sense of gratitude to all the great horses I have ridden, all the great trainers whose genius developed these champions and everybody else in racing, from the stable lads to the owners, who have made me deeply thankful for my involvement in the game.”
Continuing Kinane said: “Teamwork is the key to success in racing and I have been blessed with some of the best alliances a jockey could have.
“The most important support of all throughout my career has, naturally, come from my wife, Catherine, along with my family and friends. Both Catherine and my two precious daughters, Sinead and Aisling, know how much they mean to me.”
As usual, in or out of the saddle, Kinane’s timing was impeccable. In the twilight of an extraordinary career, Sea The Stars arrived on the scene to give the Tipperary-born maestro a season which could never be surpassed.
And so he leaves race-riding at the very top, long before the inevitable whispering began, and having been announced as the jockey of the year at the 43rd Derby Awards in London on Monday night.
Speaking yesterday afternoon, Kinane said: “To retire was a difficult decision in some ways. But the day-to-day racing was no longer holding any appeal for me.
“You have to stay focused and I didn’t want my riding to decline. I didn’t want that to happen to me, I wanted to go out at the top.”
He had no hesitation confirming Sea The Stars as the best he has ever ridden. “Undoubtedly, Sea the Stars was the best. He was the most complete package you could wish for in a racehorse. He could handle any distance and any ground and was a horse who had no frailties.”
Kinane accepted that winning the Arc on Sea The Stars was the highlight of a memorable year.
Said Kinane: “There was so much expectation and it was a rollercoaster throughout. The race worked out well and it was a marvellous occasion - it doesn’t get any better. I knew it was going to be my last Arc and I was glad to put it to bed.”
He was associated with some of the finest horses of all time, the likes of Galileo, Rock Of Gibraltar, High Chaparral and Montjeu, but Sea The Stars was the one who captured the public’s imagination the most.
In Kinane he found the ideal partner, a man made of granite, who was ice-cool on the days which mattered the most.
That this was a marriage made in Heaven was never better illustrated than on Arc day at Longchamp in October.
Sea The Stars pulled particularly hard in the early stages, but Kinane didn’t panic and, somehow, managed to eventually anchor his partner.
Then he brought all his massive talent and experience into play, refusing to chase a furious gallop.
In the end, it could hardly have worked out any better, with Sea The Stars strolling through late to score largely unextended by a comfortable two lengths.
It was the horse’s sixth Group 1 success of the campaign and he had completed an unprecedented English 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby and ‘Arc victories.
Kinane readily recalls Vintage Crop’s history-making win in the Melbourne Cup in ‘93, trained by Dermot Weld and the first horse from the northern hemisphere to land a contest which is always referred to as the race which stops a nation.
Commented Kinane: “That was unbelievable. It is a massive day in Australia and one the memory of which will never leave me.”
He spent 14 years as first jockey to Weld and said of the Rosewell House trainer: “Dermot was responsible for moulding me into the international jockey which I became.”
After leaving Weld, Kinane moved to Ballydoyle and a quite astonishing run of success followed.
Said Kinane: “In the five and a half years I rode for Ballydoyle, I think I won 57 Group 1’s. It was phenomenal and a huge part of my life.”
Kinane’s first Epsom Derby on Commander In Chief, also in ‘93, was a major moment. Said Kinane: “Winning your first Derby is always a huge milestone. It just sort of stamps you on the international scene and it was an easy day for me.
“I was on the second string and the pressure was on Pat (Eddery). At the end it just came my way. It was a lovely introduction to one of the great races.”
Kinane, of course, always seemed blessed with an ideal temperament. “There was no point going out ashen-faced to owners and trainers,” he said. “I always tried to be in control of my emotions and, if I wasn’t, I didn’t show it.”
He was born on June 22, 1959 and rode his first winner aboard Muscari at Leopardstown in March, 1975.
He had an amazing big-race record and among his English successes were three Derbys, four 2000 Guineas, two Oaks, a St Leger, five King Georges and six St James’ Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, more than any other rider.
At home he won 14 Irish classics and a record seven Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.
Added to that he landed the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe three times, the Melbourne Cup, the Belmont Stakes with Go And Go and enjoyed three wins at the Breeders’ Cup.
My first real memory of Kinane came as far back as 1982. In those days Irish flat jockeys had little or no standing outside of their native country.
Those at the top of their trade were regarded as being of sufficient ability to ride at home, but the notion they would travel beyond these shores was literally unheard of.
Kinane was the man who changed all of that. In ’82, he won the Irish 2000 Guineas at the Curragh for Liam Browne on Dara Monarch.
Then Dara Monarch went for the St James’ Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot and all the speculation at the time was whether Kinane would be up to the task.
He rode a copybook race to guide Dara Monarch to success and never again was there a question mark against his name.
Kinane was a trail-blazer, changing the deep-rooted notions that Irish flat jockeys weren’t good enough for the international stage.
Said Kinane: “Well, I hope I helped. My attitude was always have saddle will travel. There was no Sunday racing in Ireland in those days, so I went to Italy and Germany. It reaped its rewards.
“When I rode Dara Monarch at Ascot it showed I could handle the pressure and people then looked at me a bit differently after that.”
What of the future? “I have a farm here at home and will continue to breed horses. The plan now is to stand back and take a holiday. There will be no quick decisions, but I will continue to ride out for John Oxx.”
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