Kinane relishing Ambassador role

YOU would be forgiven for thinking that nothing could ruffle a man who was arguably the best in the world at settling a half ton of excitable horseflesh, then pushing and cajoling it through tiny gaps at 40mph on undulating surfaces, while surrounded by similar partnerships chasing the same space, and doing all that in front of millions of people worldwide.

Nerves of steel, as well as other anatomical parts of similar composition, helped Michael Kinane become the only jockey to boot home the winners of all the European Group 1 races, as well as many major international races in America, Australia, Dubai, Japan and Hong Kong.

It would be unfair to say that being introduced to the world of Facebook and Twitter has reduced the 50-year-old Killenaule native to a quivering wreck but there is no doubt that the thoughts of frequenting the social networking scene as part of his new role as Horse Racing Ireland’s Flat Ambassador are daunting.

“I have 61 friends got that I hadn’t this morning” he joked yesterday afternoon at the HRI offices in Newbridge.

“I was speaking to my daughter last year and I asked her ‘what’s Facebook?’

“‘Not for you Dad’ was the answer”, he laughed.

Kinane is in great form and clearly at ease with his decision to retire last year, having brought a 35-year career to an end in fairytale fashion due to his association with wonder horse, Sea The Stars.

With the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe bagged in Paris last October, to climax an already historic season that had yielded the 2,000 Guineas, Epsom Derby and Irish Champion Stakes for the John Oxx-trained marvel, Kinane got to depart on his terms.

“I had my mind made up from a good while” he reveals. “It might have ended before only for that horse arrived. It was perfect. To have him and to choose your moment. Generally sport chooses the moment for you.”

Adjusting to retirement has been easy. He has been building a breeding operation for a number of years and is looking to develop that further. Mind you, it will be difficult, as he has already bred an Epsom Derby winner and admits that he was more nervous before Authorized gave Frankie Dettori his first success in the Classic in 2007, than at any other time in his career.

Needless to say, he has sent one of his mares to be covered by Sea The Stars and is excited about what might result from that engagement. He still has dreams.

He fishes from his boat on the Shannon, plays golf and generally watches as much sport as he can, be it Manchester United in the premiership, or his beloved Tipperary, who he believes “will take some beating” if they improve even marginally on last year.

He is riding out a couple of days a week at Oxx’s and still goes to race meetings. Only nowadays, it’s as an ordinary Joe.

“It was a bit strange being part of the public. The camaraderie of the jockeys is the huge thing; it’s the biggest thing. They’re great pals. You’d miss that day-to-day. But I don’t miss the riding. I had 35 years at it. I was lucky to walk away healthy and well and walked away at the top. It’s hard to find that perfect exit in sport. I did.”

He has so much going on that it is not a case of wondering what is he going to do for the day, more than, how much he will manage to get done.

He didn’t think twice about taking on the ambassadorial role for flat racing though, believing fervently that the sport has to work hard to capture the hearts and minds of new patrons, starting with the youth, just as the GAA, rugby and soccer are doing.

“The public have viewed it as a bit elitist but if you scratch the surface it’s not. It’s just a different flavour, a different taste. It’s a question of getting to the young people, getting them informed, getting them involved and creating an interest that they think it’s a good day.

“If you get one to come, they might come again. Times are tough and people need to be entertained. You have to convince people. You can’t take it for granted anymore.

“I would hope I can help…I firmly believe you have to go back to the schools. In Australia, the Melbourne Cup goes to the schools around the country.”

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