LAST weekend offered another illustration of the wealth of young talent inhabiting Irish weigh rooms at the moment.
Over jumps, conditional rider Darragh O’Keeffe lies second in the overall table, just two behind leader Paul Townend prior to racing yesterday at Gowran Park.
With 40 winners, O’Keeffe was just four short of the record for conditionals set by Jack Kennedy in the 2015/2016 campaign and a full 19 better than what was enough for Donie McInerney to annex that title last term, with eight months still to go in the current one.
There seems to be a marked move towards utilising nascent talent on the flat. Dermot Weld has been using both Oisín Orr and Andrew Slattery liberally, providing them both with group successes this term.
Ahead of last night’s Dundalk programme, Slattery lay sixth in the overall jockeys’ table, his 37 just one ahead of Orr. Two other apprentices, Ben Coen – a first cousin of Slattery’s – and Shane Crosse lie just outside the top 10.
Slattery registered his first group winner last weekend but was actually bettered by a hot Crosse, who broke his duck in the elite sphere and then followed up again 24 hours later.
To put that feat into context, Crosse only celebrated his 18th birthday on September 21 and togs out with the likes of 52-year-old Kevin Manning and 50-year-old Niall McCullagh.
The Cahir teenager should have a lot to learn still, and does, but he has been moving in the right direction more quickly than is the norm since steering his first winner on G Force for Adrian Keatley at Naas 18 months ago.
He was back on the board two days later and a momentum had begun that brought him the champion apprentice title. There is often a lull after the achievement of such a landmark but a combination of Crosse’s talent, the fact that he still has his claim, and significantly, the support of one of the biggest strings in the land in the form of Joseph O’Brien’s on Owning Hill have seen him continue his advance.
While the O’Brien support is a clear advantage, it is one afforded him because of his ability, temperament and attitude.
Last Saturday, the neophyte was on board Speak In Colours for the Group 3 AES Renaissance Stakes. With strong form at Group 2 level, it was no surprise that the Excelebration four-year-old would go off a 6/5 hotpot. That, in itself, was a burden, compared to New York Girl in the Weld Park Stakes the following day.
“There was a bit of pressure on the first lad, obviously he was favourite” Crosse admits.
“The nerves were up for him. But he is a lovely old horse. After going home on Saturday I was on cloud nine. Heading onto Sunday it was a lot easier to do the job on the filly. It wasn’t really expected but we knew she was a nice one.
“Going into the race you nearly had to say Speak In Colours had to win. He was fourth behind Blue Point in Ascot. So the nerves were up for up him and I actually wouldn’t normally get nervous going into a race.
“I thought I had everything sussed out for him and half-way during the race he nearly fell asleep on me. I was like, ‘Don’t do this to me!’ For a sprinter, he is as laidback as you get and you wake him up and he gets there. He will put his head down. He won snug on the line, he was going away.”
Speak In Colours makes a quick reappearance at Longchamp tomorrow for the Prix de la Foret, like all the other contests on the prestigious six-race Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe card, a Group 1 affair.
It is the trainer’s brother Donnacha that will get the leg up however. Crosse would love to be on duty but there is a pecking order and anyway, he will be targeting another group prize on board Wisdom Mind for the boss in the Concorde Stakes at Tipperary.
“You can’t be giving out. A lot of the time it happens to be the case you don’t get to win on them. Or if they won you don’t get to ride the next day because Donnacha is the number one jockey so you can’t be giving out in that respect. I am in an ideal position where I am and I am delighted with where I am.
“It all depending on if Donnacha is riding for (his father) Aidan and even if he is, Joseph might get someone else like Wayne (Lordan), who has done really well for him.
“You know it is coming. It is not surprising.”
So it may well be with New York Girl too. Unlike the well-exposed Speak In Colours, New York Girl could be anything, finishing with a wet sail last Sunday to bag a second Group 3 for her partner.
It was just a second run for the daughter of New Approach, having been a very unlucky fourth on debut and with room for improvement, the Mark Dobbin-owned two-year-old could well be competing at the highest level in her classic season.
“She would probably be better on better ground. The day she ran in Cork it was definitely better ground. We thought the going might be an excuse for Sunday if she didn’t go well because that is why she was pulled out of Gowran when that card was rescheduled for the Thursday before. That and greenness maybe, and she blew us away.
“The bigger picture will be next year, putting her away, and coming back bigger and stronger. But I wouldn’t be surprised if she was to get another day out by the end of the season.”
Crosse has an older brother Nathan who has been doing very well this season too but it was the younger sibling that showed an interest in following in their father Matt’s footsteps by being a jockey first.
“Dad is a former jump jockey who rode in Ireland, England and America and works for Jessica Harrington. He was with Tommy Stack and Joseph O’Brien before that and is loving being back directly involved with the horses again and going racing. His role was more about organising with Joseph and he just missed that direct involvement.
“Mam (Bernadette) is mad into it too. She was always involved at home. She would be all around the country pony racing. You could be in Kerry one day and in Donegal the next day. It wasn’t easy but we were only 13 or 14. They were very good at giving us days off school to go racing. They understood what we wanted to do.
“Dad got us a pony. I started messing around with him and taking him racing on a Sunday. Nathan is older than me but he didn’t start riding until he saw the craic we were having. He has done really well now that he is getting the opportunities.”
Having ridden out with them from the beginning, and being their father, Matt will always be first point of contact for counselling but in O’Brien, Shane has access to a multiple champion and classic-winning jockey, the youngest pilot to steer a Breeders’ Cup winner, record-holder for number of winners ridden in a season in Ireland, and also the apprentice tally.
That is a considerable resource.
“We get on really well, and he is great craic. Obviously he has ridden in so many races, so many Group 1s and classics. He knows what can happen in a race that other trainers might not.
“He mightn’t always say it to you if you have made a mistake, he takes it as you should know yourself at this stage. He is very good, very laidback. He gives you few instructions and that is it, it’s up to you.”
It is a partnership that has yielded plenty dividends for them both to date.
And they’re only getting started.