BIG INTERVIEW: Trainer Adrian Keatley

A memorable first season at Rossmore Stables

Tommy Callaghan tommy@leinsterleader.ie

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Tommy Callaghan tommy@leinsterleader.ie

BIG INTERVIEW: Trainer Adrian Keatley

Jet Setting with trainer Adrian Keatley and jockey Shane 'Dusty' Foley after winning the Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas at the Curragh. Photo: Caroline Ennis

He is only training on the Curragh a matter of months but boy has he made a major impact.

Adrian Keatley hit the headlines when training the winner of the Irish 1,000 Guineas with Jet Setting, a 3-year-filly whose story is what racing dreams are made of.

Originally trained across the pond, Jet Setting was bought for a mere 12,000gns having been moved on by trainer Richard Hannon at the Tattersalls Autumn Horses-in-Training Sales.

Sent to Adrian Keatley’s yard, the filly showed remarkable improvement picking up a few valuable races before getting the better of Aidan O’Brien’s odds-on and much fancied favourite, Minding, to land the Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas.

Just last month the filly was back in the selling ring and went for multiples of what she had been bought for, in fact a sum of no less than £1.3m was paid over by the China Horse Club.

And the good news for the Co Kildare native trainer is that the new owners immediately announced that their new purchase would be retained by them at Keatley’s Rossmore training head-quarters on the edge of the Curragh.

Jet Setting headed over to Royal Ascot but never really got into the race and disappointingly finshed in sixth spot.

Less than 12 months ago Adrian Keatley was training just a dozen horses but how much has changed in the meantime is simply incredible.

“We trained what we had to the best of their abilities and try and win with them wherever and whenever and that policy certainly paid off.

Adrian Keatley may be a relatively new trainer at Rossmore Stables but horses were in his blood from a very young age and while members of his family took to GAA (brother Ivan, local councillor and recently retired top player with St Laurence’s while sister Paula, is a top camogie player with club and county) Adrian had his eyes firmly set on the racing game.

“The Shortt family operated just down the road from where we lived just outside Kilcullen; John was a good friend of mine and a good jockey; his sister Susan was an international event rider; and along with their parents, Paddy and Elizabeth, that is where I grew up learning my trade.

“Then I was in Francis Flood’s as an amateur jockey (quickly adding a moderate amateur jockey but riding very moderate horses mind you); plenty of hard work, plenty of wasting trying to keep my weight down and I then ended up with Oliver McKiernan’s for about six years.

Oliver is a well known and very successful builder in the Rathcoole area of Co Dublin has had numerous success down the years on the National Hunt scene as Adrian explains.

“Oliver is a businessman, a builder, so I was basically training the horses there for him (the licence was in his name) and again I learned a lot there; got a lot of experience; trial and error, being able to buy horses at the sales for Oliver, National Hunt horses, and we had a lot of success; a lot of winners and for some reason we always seem to do very well around the Christmas time. We had Grade 1 winnes with Whatuthink; Follow The Plan; On His Own (Willie Mullins has him now) was only beaten a short head in the Gold Cup so that is where I gained a lot of my experience in this country.”

Adrian was keen to learn and in particular learn more about flat racing so he took himself off to Australia as he explains.

“I was in Sydney for about two years; I was with John O’Shea for six months and then I went to Chris Waller, who is a phenomenal trainer; he is breaking all records. Over here (in Ireland) people don’t realise the success of Chris Waller has had or indeed the prize money that is available in Australia.

Last year alone Chris Waller earned some $28 million in prize money; he has a yard in Brisbane; and a yard in Melbourne but his main yard is in Sydney says Adrian, adding I learned an enormous amount during that period.

Was it always the plan to become a trainer?

“Yeah, I was always going to be too heavy for riding and once I got the real feel for it in Oliver’s (McKiernan) yard I was determined that that is what I wanted to do because when I was with Oliver I was able to buy horses; spend a few quid on gallops and everything else; I knew and realised that if I had the right backing and the right facilities I could get the job done and thankfully things are working out for us at the moment.”

Was it by accident or design you concentrate on the flat rather than National Hunt or was it just the raw material that came your way?

“No, that is why I went to Australia originally, to learn more about flat racing and I wanted to get into the flat; jumping game is very much these days dominated by Willie (Mullins) and Gordon (Elliott) and others, while Joseph (O’Brien) is going to be massive in the jumping game (as well as flat); you are talking about fellas who are training 200 horses; Gordon, Willie, Joseph these are the numbers these lads are training and in Joseph’s case will be in the future.”

Adrian added that sometimes you can buy a jump horse and you might be waiting until the winter after this winter before you produce him, where as in the flat it’s a quicker debt and a quicker profit.

“I’d be all on for a quicker debt myself; and of course it is a lot easier to keep owners happy from the autumn to the spring, and you are able to be honest with owners.

“One thing about training is honesty; you must be honest with the owners; if the horses are not up to winning or up to performing at any level then the owners must be made aware of it.”

But not all owners like being told their horses are not capable of winning a race, adds Adrian with a laugh, adding “but I find and I learned from Gordon (Elliott) and I watch a lot of what Gordon does, he told me from Day 1: in the long run honesty pays off and if you decide to move a horse on, even if he subsequently wins from another yard, you are honest with the owner and while they might not like to hear that, in the long term they will respect you for it.”

In a remarkable and frank chat with Adrian at his headquarters in Rathbride, Adrian tells us that “you must remember there are an awful lot more horses that aren’t capable of winning than horses that are and that is why I think it is important that I bring my horses to wherever I think we can win.

“I go to Ayr a lot while Gordon (Elliott) likes Perth. We have horses that are capable of winning over there.” He added: “in Ireland they could be finishing third, fourth or fifth, week in and week out and while they are creeping up in the handicap and picking up a bit of prize money they are not winning and this game is all about winning.

“When go to somewhere like Ayr, maybe eight or ten runners in a race; the races are a lot fairer over there; you’re able to win; owners in particular are treated exceptionally well and have a great day out and I think that’s what is important.

“There is no fun in horses not getting a win and horses are plentiful so you should never be afraid of letting them go; of course sometimes they can come back to bite you as Richard Hannon found out this year with Jet Setting but on the flip side of that Richard Hannon has 300 horses in his yard and he has to turn them over as well; there is always going to be one you let go; it will probably happen to me some day when I let a horse go that I feel is not capable of winning and someone else could turn around and a win a race but that’s no fault of Richard Hannon that Jet Setting did that but Richard Hannon is as good a trainer as there is in England and we got lucky but it is important that horses win.”

A progressive trainer, with a great future, Adrian Keatley has installed a water walker in his yard.

“It is something I wanted for a long time; I saw them in Australia and feel it's a great asset; it is the only private water walker on the Curragh.

“There is about 3 feet of water in it (some 10,000 gallons) I feel it is better than swimming as that (swimming) can cause back problems while in the water walker they have to push through the water; they lift their legs using the right muscles; it is really hard work on the horses but without putting too much wear and tear on them.”

Adrian has a small but very committed workforce in his yard, and uses some top class jockeys including Shane ‘Dusty’ Foley who rode Jet Setting to the Guineas success, Leigh Roche, Gary Halpin, to name a few others, along with up and coming apprentice Robbie Dolan.

The Headman in Rossmore Stables is Murdock Kelly, a vastly experienced horseman who has worked for the great Mick O’Toole and Willie Mullins and has also spent over a decade in Japan.

“I am often away” says Adrian “and it is very important to have good people in the yard, which I have, and who I can rely on and I am very lucky to have the people I have working for me at present including my hard working secretary Megan Daly (don’t know how she puts up with me at times).”

On the future Adrian Keatley has plans to extend his yard by another 15-20 boxes with their own private coral while other improvements are also in the pipeline.

“Hopefully we can buy a few yearlings that can win for us; I have some very good owners that I very much appreciate and getting winners for them is what it is all about.”

The future certainly looks bright for Adrian Keatley who is surrounded by some of the new kids on the block in Rathbride as regards training, along with some of the most experienced and successful trainers in the country; trainers such as Kevin Prendergast and Dermot Weld, not forgetting others who “are all doing well such as Willie McCreery, Darren Bunyan, Michael O’Callaghan to name just a few.”

Adrian is looking forward to this weekend and the three day Derby meeting where he hopes to have a few runners. Keep an eye out for the likes of Quiet Company “working very well at home and will probably run over 7 furlongs; also Little Oasis over 6 furlongs; Bob Moore “confident of winning over 7 furlongs” while Liberty Jack, “all going well will also get a run this weekend.”

Adrian is very excited with G Force who is only with him six weeks. The former David O’Meara bay stallion is a Group 1 sprinter; finished fourth in a Group 1 just seven months ago and while Adrian says he still has some work to do with this one to get him back to full fitness, one gets the vibes it is a stallion he is really looking forward to seeing run.

All in all it would seem a great future lies ahead for this young and progressive trainer and we look forward to keeping an eye on his progress in the weeks, months and indeed the years ahead.

This article appeared in the print edition of the Leinster Leader on 21/6/16.