Mick Kinane announced his retirement at the start of December. His decision to retire after his annus mirabilis with Sea the Stars is indicative of a jockey who had a perfect sense of timing. Many of the glowing tributes described him as the ‘best flat jockey that Ireland ever produced’. I’m not convinced he was demonstrably better than Pat Eddery, Kieran Fallon or Johnny Murtagh but he was certainly as good as any other Irish jockey. In particular he was outstanding around Leopardstown and Ascot. I sometimes had reservations about his riding in France and the US, but it is a testament to his greatness that he tended to be judged against a benchmark of perfection. Naturally over such a lengthy career he rode many future stallions (far too many to properly consider) but it is worth recalling some of the more notable names from such a storied career.
The Liam Browne years
Initially Kinane rode for Michael Kauntze and Liam Browne. The only star from that time was the cheaply bred and purchased Dara Monarch (1979 Realm x Sardara by Alcide)who won an Irish 2000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes for Liam Browne. At stud his only offspring of significance was the Lockinge winner Broken Hearted.
The Dermot Weld Years 1983-1997
From there he moved across the Curragh to Rosewell House and Dermot Weld where he stayed from late 1983-1997. Although it was a successful partnership that led to a number of Irish championships, in terms of influential stallions it was disappointing. The most important was Theatrical (1982 Nureyev x Tree of Knowledge by Sassafras). but he achieved his major successes after leaving Ireland. Ironically Kinane chose not to ride Theatrical’s son Zagreb (1993 Theatrical x Sophonosibe by Wollow) for Weld in the 1996 Irish Derby favouring Michael Stoute’s Dr Massini who trailed in 7th. Indeed the Irish Derby was an unlucky race for Kinane who was also touched off on Weld’s Definite Article (1992 Indian Ridge x Summer Fashion by Moorestyle) by Winged Love in 1995. Thus far Definite Article’s main achievement has been to sire the outstanding stayer Vinnie Roe who won an incredible 4 Irish St Legers.
Flash of Steel (1983 Kris x Spark of Fire by Run the Gauntlet) won the 1986 Irish Guineas for Weld and Kinane but like many sons of Kris was disappointing at stud. Big Shuffle (1984 Super Concorde x Raise Your Skirts by Elevation) won a Cork and Orrery in 1987 and he is still a popular and successful stallion in Germany where he proved a reliable source of speed. In 1992 Brief Truce (1989 Irish River x Falafel by Northern Dancer) got a superb ride from Kinane to win a St James Palace at 25-1 defeating Rodrigo de Triano and Arazi ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hUplXewoDM ) but he was disappointing as a sire. 1990 saw Weld and Kinane secure an historic Belmont Victory with Go and Go (1987 Be my Guest x Irish Edition by Alleged) winning by 8 lengths. Again that son of Be My Guest made no impact as a sire. Twilight Agenda (1986 Devil’s Bag x Grenzen by Grenfall) was another Moyglare Stud horse who seemed to prosper once he was transferred to the US, but he also failed to make an impact at stud. Vintage Crop’s (1987 Rousillon x Overplay by Bustino) historic Melbourne Cup win is of no relevance as he was of course a gelding. An interesting and unexpected successful stallion from that period was Unusual Heat (1990 Nureyev x Rossard by Glacial) who never won above listed class, finished last in the Irish 2000 Guineas but who has risen from obscurity to become an important sire in California.
Mick acquired a reputation as the big race king or ‘super-sub’. He certainly compiled a very impressive record for outside stables. He rode Carroll House (1985 Lord Gayle x Tuna by Silver Shark) to win the 1989 Arc http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lpiwr6H7134&feature=related and Phoenix Champion Stakes. Like so many horses at the time he was sold to Japan but was eventually returned to Ireland as a National Hunt stallion. The next year he rode Tirol (1987 Thatching x Alpine Niece by Great Nephew) to win the 2000 Guineas for Richard Hannon. He retired to Coolmore alongside his sire where he did sire the occasional top horse such as Tarascon and Miss Tahiti, but he never threatened to be the saviour of the Forli line. Mick got to ride Commander in Chief (1990 Dancing Brave x Slightly Dangerous by Roberto) to Derby success when Pat Eddery wrongly chose Tenby. Commander in Chief was also sold to Japan where he failed to make a significant impact.
Mick rode Belmez (1987 El Gran Senor x Grace Note by Top Ville) and King’s Theatre (1991 Sadler’s Wells x Regal Beauty by Princely Native) to win the King George for Henry Cecil. Belmez proved a very disappointing sire prior to his premature death. King’s Theatre is now marketed as a dual purpose sire and to be fair he is a very good jumps sire.
The Aidan O’Brien Years 1999-2003
The biggest and most pressurised job in Europe saw Kinane rise to the challenge admirably. The list of top class horses is very long and almost all of them got their chance at Coolmore. In terms of sires the outstanding name is Galileo the dual Derby winner from 2001 followed by Giant’s Causway who was a star of the 2000 season.
Rock of Gibraltar (1999 Danehill x by Offshore Boom by Be My Guest) is proving an average sire given his opportunities, and Kinane wasn’t at his finest when riding him in the Breeders Cup Mile. 2002 saw Ballydoyle house the Rock, along with High Chaparral (1999 Sadler’s Wells x Kasora by Darshaan) and Hawk Wing (1999 Woodman x La Lorgnette by Val De L’Orne). Mick made a rare error of judgement in choosing to ride Hawk Wing over High Chapparal in the Derby that year. In terms of stud careers Hawk Wing has been a disaster and High Chapparal (who at one point looked destined for a career as a National Hunt sire), has staged a spirited revival and is compiling a creditable record here and in Australia.
Fasliyev (1997 Nureyev x Mr P’s Princess by Mr Prospector) was an unbeaten two year old in 1999 who had a sensational first crop but was unable to build on it.
Minardi (1998 Boundary x Yarn by Mr Prospector) was another good two year old but a disappointing sire. Johannesburg (1999 Hennessy x Myth by Ogygian) was a remarkable two year old in 2001 and his success in the Breeders Cup Juvenile was a breakthrough dirt success for Ballydoyle. As a sire he made a lot of money for Ashford Stud before his recent move to Japan, but to my mind he was overpriced and the occasional top horse hid a lot of dross.
Mozart (1998 Danehill x Victoria Cross by Spectacular Bid) was an outstanding sprinter and on the evidence of his sole crop that featured Dandy Man and Amadeus Wolf his premature death was unfortunate for Coolmore.
Stravinsky (1996 Nureyev x Fire the Groom by Blushing Groom) was another oustanding sprinter and although eventually sold by Coolmore to Japan he left behind a creditable record here and in the Southern hemisphere.
The John Oxx years 2004-2009
Only two horses are likely to have an impact as stallions, obviously Sea The Stars has everything going for him and its easy to forget that Azamour ( 2001 Night Shift x Asmara by Lear Fan) was also a Group 1 winner over a mile, 10 furlongs and 12 furlongs. There were some promising individuals amongst Azamour’s first crop of two year olds and his progeny are likely to progress.
Five best stallions ridden by Kinane
1. Montjeu (1996 Sadler’s Wells x Floripedes by Top Ville)
Already a dual Derby winner by the time Kinane took over the ride. Kinane rode him to 4 Group 1 wins. The most impressive was his imperious victory in the King George. He bacame Mick’s second Arc winner but in my opinion it wasn’t Mick’s best ride as he was in a pocket and on testing ground Montjeu did very well to make up the ground on the heroic El Condor Pasa. Happily Mick subsequently earned the distinction of being co-breeder of Montjeu’s Derby winning son Authorized.
2. Galileo (1998 Sadler’s Wells x Urban Sea by Miswaki).
Mick rode him in 7 of his 8 races comfortably winning the Derby, Irish Derby and King George on him. There was some criticism of his ride in the Irish Champion Stakes when Godolphin and Fantastic Light defeated him by a head. His career finished disappointingly in the Breeders Cup when Ballydoyle seemed to ignore the stats involving the offspring of Sadler’s Wells running on the dirt.
3. Monsun (1990 Konigsstuhl x Mosella by Surumu)
Mick only rode him once but it was Group 1 win in the 1993 Aral Pokal. Ironically the second horse George Augustus was trained by his subsequent employer John Oxx and the third home shrewd idea was trained by one of his first bosses Michael Kauntze. I doubt if anyone present that day realised that they were viewing a horse destined to become the greatest sire Germany has produced.
4. Giant’s Causeway (1997 Storm Cat x Mariah’s Storm by Rahy).
Mick rode him in 12 of his 13 starts winning 5 group 1’s on the ‘Iron Horse’ (George Duffield rode him in the Eclipse). Many of these successes were hard fought and it is worth rewatching his ride in the Juddmonte International ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDPyQA-WWGo ) . Less pleasant viewing for Mick would be his ride in the Irish Guineas where Bachir stole a march on him and some would argue that dropping his whip near the finish of the Breeder’s Cup Classic affected the result (Tiznow won by a neck). Although Giant’s Causeway can sometimes divide opinions amongst breeders, he keeps churning out stakes horses and he is always capable of producing a top notcher particularly on turf or synthetics.
5. Theatrical (1982 Nureyev x Tree of Knowledge by Sassafras).
Mick was jocked off Theatrical to allow Lester Pigott the ride at Epsom. Back in Ireland Mick had won a Derby Trial on Theatrical and rode a good race when second to Law Society in the 1985 Irish Derby. Theatrical subsequently improved slightly when transferred to Bill Mott. Theatrical became a fine stallion who was somewhat underrated and at stud on the wrong continent.
Five most disappointing stallions ridden by Kinane (relative to opportunities).
1. Hawk Wing (1999 Woodman x La Lorgnette by Val De L’Orne)
The horse who seemed to have everything, brilliant speed and enough stamina to finish second in a good Derby. Mick rode him to win Group 1’s at 2 (National Stakes), 3 (a soft Eclipse) and 4 (the Lockinge). His performance in the Lockinge had Timeform struggling to find a better performance in recent decades http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiXbsSCdGLs . Hawk Wing would have won a 2000 Guineas if Mick Kinane had ridden him but he was suspended at the time and regardless he might have chosen to ride Johannesburg in the Kentucky Derby that same day. In a prelude of things to come as far as Ballydoyle were concerned Jamie Spencer took over and got the horse beaten whilst in a further portent Johnny Murtagh did a fine job on Rock of Gibraltar. A terrible stallion (like most sons of Woodman) and now banished to Korea.
2. Entrepreneur (1994 Sadler’s Wells x Exclusive Order by Exclusive Native)
A Guineas winner who retired to Coolmore. He did sire Vintage Tipple who won an Irish Oaks but the fact that he is now in Russia says it all.
3. King of Kings (1995 Sadler’s Wells x Zummerudd by Habitat). Another Guineas winner by Sadler’s Wells who retired to Coolmore. Did ok in his Southern Hemisphere stint but now in Switzerland.
4. One Cool Cat (2001 Storm Cat x Tacha by Mr Prospector).
Mick rode him to win the National Stakes and Phoenix Stakes at two during his last season at Ballydoyle. His oldest progeny are still not even four and he has had a lot of two year old winners in the last season so it might seem very unreasonable to make a decision on him as yet, but he has been very disappointing with nothing of note to date.
5. Fasliyev (1997 Nureyev x Mr P’s Princess by Mr Prospector).
Mick rode him to win the Phoenix Stakes and Prix Morny as part of an unbeaten juvenile campaign. He is on this list because he misled a lot of people (including me) into thinking that he was about to become a major force in Europe after a scintillating first crop of two year olds. His stud fee rocketed but everything since then was a disappointment and he is now in Japan.
In a career of such longevity and such success it is only possible for me to provide a very potted history. The story will still need to be updated as Mick rode plenty of stallions about whom we will have to wait to make a full assessment. However at the end of his riding career we can safely state that Mick was a truly great jockey and I suspect that Mick is one of those people that sometimes aren’t fully appreciated until they are gone (that was certainly the case in Ballydoyle when they replaced him with Jamie Spencer 🙂