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Dublin: 5 °C Sunday 20 January, 2019

Jack Kennedy - The Kerry teenager set to make his mark on Cheltenham

The 17-year-old appears destined for greatness whatever happens this year at Prestbury Park.

Jack Kennedy rides Outlander to victory in the Lexus Chase.
Jack Kennedy rides Outlander to victory in the Lexus Chase.
Image: Niall Carson

JACK KENNEDY MADE a relatively anonymous Cheltenham festival debut last year when he managed ‘only’ fourth on Taglietelle in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Chase before finishing seventh on Squouateur in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle with his two rides.

For most 16-year-year old jockeys, it would be an achievement just to be there.

But Kennedy was not like most 16-year-old jockeys.

To put his youth into perspective, the same month he was born, Paul Carberry steered Bobbyjo to Aintree Grand National glory, becoming the first Irish-trained horse to win the famed race for nearly a quarter of a century.

On his very first ride for Willie Mullins, in July 2015, he steered Clondaw Warrior to victory in the Guinness Handicap at the Galway Races.

Four months later, the Dingle native recorded a treble at Navan for Gordon Elliott, including the Troytown Chase.

And between 28 December 2016 and 22 January this year, he won two Grade 1s and two top handicaps for the same trainer — including the prestigious Lexus Chase on Outlander — scooping more than €210,000 in prize money for the owners.

Leopardstown Christmas Festival - Day Three Jack Kennedy with Gordon Elliott. Source: Niall Carson

And the future looks even brighter.

Despite being a month away from turning 18, Kennedy is second in the Irish Jump Jockeys Championship and his two Grade 1 wins over Christmas has cemented his relationship with Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, so expect to see a lot of him in the famous maroon silks at this year’s festival.

Of course, Kennedy’s success over the past 18 months or so isn’t all that surprising when you consider that he was a three-time pony racing champion and was named Irish Field National Champion Jockey, as well as overall horse and pony champion in the southern region, at the age of 13.

It was, perhaps, there that his handling skills were shaped, and they came in handy at Thurles earlier this year when he somehow managed to stay on his mount Bilko:

Last season, nearly 60 different trainers called on Kennedy’s services, but it is under the tutelage of Elliott that his career has really blossomed.

And in 2016 the trainer heaped praise on his protege when talking to Midlands 103:

“What he’s doing right now is amazing. He’s answered every single question I’ve thrown at him and he’ll continue to get plenty of chances here.”

Gigginstown like using him, so does JP (McManus) and a lot of the owners are happy to have him riding their horses. He’s only 17 but you wouldn’t think it. He’s very laid-back and is a very hard worker.”

In Irish racing, if you’re making O’Leary and McManus happy, you’re doing something right.

However, if there is to be any caution about proclaiming Kennedy a future prince of Prestbury Park, there was a time not so long ago that similar praise was being heaped on Danny Mullins.

After riding 126 winners in just two seasons on the pony racing circuit, he apprenticed with Jim Bolger and, just a few weeks after turning 16, rode four winners from his first six rides and was quickly the most in-demand apprentice in Ireland.

But after his weight went up, he was forced to focus on jumps and the winners dried up. And while he’s certainly had a career that’s not to be sniffed at, Mullins is far from the future Champion Jockey he was once tipped to be.

It’s a warning, but the Kennedy story feels like it will have a different ending.

He has more than 100 wins in Ireland already, but next week represents a real opportunity for him to show an even bigger audience that he’s the natural successor to AP McCoy, Barry Geraghty and, of course Ruby Walsh.

By the time Cheltenham 2020 rolls around — and if they’re still racing — Geraghty and Walsh will be 40, Kennedy just half that.

In terms of Irish racing, it appears as if the future’s already here.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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