IT’S only a few years since Kildare native Adrian Keatley returned from a stint in Australia and decided to go out on his own as a trainer. Previously heavily involved in Oliver McKiernan’s Rathcoole base where the pair enjoyed Grade One success, Keatley then spent time with Australia’s champion trainer, Chris Waller, to further enhance his knowledge.
On his return to Ireland, Keatley rented boxes from Peter McCreery and started training on his own with just two horses, but in June of this year he became a Classic winning trainer. Something that even surpassed the expectations of the ambitious trainer but now the 1,000 Guineas victory of Jet Setting is a benchmark from which he is hoping to build on.
“I don’t think too many trainer in my position do think about winning Classic’s but hopefully now we can make it happen again,” Keatley told the Nationalist on Sunday.
Jet Setting is a filly that began her racing career with Richard Hannon and for many in the world of racing even buying a horse from the yard of a former champion trainer and trying to win races is a brave move but Keatley didn’t just manage to win a race, he brought her on to win a maiden, a Group Three and then an Irish 1,000 Guineas at the Curragh.
“It was a dream come true for somebody like me to win a Guineas at the Curragh but the biggest dream is being able to build on that now. I want to have more horses contesting those calibre of races and the focus is yes, to expand our numbers, but to do so with quality rather than getting too much quantity,” he said.
Jet Setting took the natural progression from the Curragh to Royal Ascot where she went off favourite for the Coronation Stakes but there was a very important chapter of the Jet Setting story in between as on the eve of the Royal meeting, Jet Setting was offered a public auction in the Goffs select sale and having been bought last Autumn for just 12,000 Guineas, in June the three-year-old was knocked down to the China Horse Club for a whopping £1,300,000.
Of course in that scenario Jet Setting could have been snapped up by anyone, well anyone who could afford the massive price tag, so there was always the chance that the top bidder could have had their own trainer waiting in the wings but sportingly and rightfully so, the China Horse Club opted to stick with the man who transformed her from a maiden to a Classic winner and Keatley still hopes to reward them.
“The fear of losing her was really the only nerves I had before Ascot. If I owned the whole lot of her myself I might have been a bit more nervous!” he joked.
“It was great to get the deal done and keep her to train and get the China Horse Club onboard and into the yard and naturally we were a bit disappointed with the run but we got her home and checked over by our vets. We have good excuses for her not running up to expectations in the Coronation Stakes and we’re happy with her now and she’s in top form, ” said Keatley about the filly who will return to action in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown next month.
Keatley’s rise through the training ranks this year has been all the more admirable as he also moved yard’s at the beginning of the season. When trainer’s do take that plunge to upgrade or change facilities there can often be a time where bedding in is required or it takes a while to get accustomed to new surroundings, but to the public’s eye, Keatley’s move to the Curragh has been pretty flawless.
“The move took more out of all of us than I would have expected. It just took a bit out of the horses, the staff and myself but it was a good move and I’m delighted to be there. We have put in our own water walker, the gallops are only out the gate and we’ve all the options on the Curragh at our disposal and there’s plenty of good riders that come in and ride work for us and hopefully we can keep expanding and keep raising the quality of horse we have.”
This season Keatley has sent out 15 winners on the flat between Ireland and the UK but as the National Hunt campaign begins to go up through the gears, there’s a hope of making a nice mark with a small number of jump horses.
“I have a couple of cracking jumping horses,” he says with excitement obvious in his tone. “I have three or four real nice bumper horses with a horse called Mountain Rock who is after winning three or four already.
“Thebarrowman won his point-to-point, bumper and maiden hurdle for us last season and he’s a horse that is going to go novice chasing this season and I’m going to target him at the Irish Grand National in the spring. He’s a cracking big horse and I’m very much looking forward to him so hopefully when we have all our yearlings bought and they are being away getting pre-trained and broken for us, the jump horses will shorten up the winter for us.”
When going into training horses, Keatley broke the mould a bit from his strong family connection with the GAA. His brother, Ivan, was a major part of the successful St Laurence’s team that won the Kildare Senior Championship, while sister, Paula, is an integral part of the ladies set-up and a regular on the Kildare team.
“The brother was a fairly useful footballer, I suppose,” he says with a grin, “and Paula plays with Kildare. I played a good bit of football when I was younger and still follow it now. I was in Oliver McKiernan’s when St Laurence’s won the championship and I had moved to play for St Mary’s in Dublin then but there’s a good local derby in Newbridge on Saturday against Athy and hopefully the lads can do well there.
“I was always into horses though and it’s probably the only thing I really know now so I’ve no plans on getting away from them at this stage!”
As well the powerful owners like the China Horse Club, Keatley is a trainer that boasts numerous different owners including syndicates and long serving loyal supporters since he started out on his own.
Be it on the big day at the Curragh or a small day in Ayr, the proud Kildare native has proven his ability to prime his horses for the day and place according to their best chance of winning. The quality and quantity at his Curragh base continues to grow, as does his reputation as a trainer to follow.
By Niall Cronin