THE anticipation in Jedd O’Keeffe’s voice is discernible as he prepares to saddle his first Ebor runner today.
“To any proud Yorkshireman, to have a winner at York is huge,” said the trainer after putting the finishing touches to the preparations of Lord Yeats.
“To win the Ebor would be a dream come true. Excited? We can’t believe we’ve a horse good enough.”
He should. This, after all, is a horse that has climbed the handicap ratings following a breakthrough year for the Middleham yard.
A win at York’s Dante meeting was followed by Listed success in Newmarket’s Fred Archer Stakes the day after O’Keeffe’s yard had recorded a famous four-timer. The promised party is still on hold at the yard that couldn’t do wrong for 24 hours.
These are heady times for a trainer who could have been a linguist at the heart of international affairs if his career had taken a different course.
Learning the ability to analyse and think about things broadly, it has helped in that respect. All education helps in this regard. However, I spent most of the time riding out or going racing, hence the 2:2.Jedd O’Keeffe
Born in Wetherby – his father Eddie was a jockey while his mother Ena was a dentist – he successfully passed A-Levels in French and Latin.
Uncertain about his future, he then made the bold decision to study Russian Language and Soviet Studies at university in Portsmouth – the Cold War was coming to an end; Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev were global figures and the degree course in question was unusual in that it demanded no previous experience of the subject.
And then racing intervened. Asked if his degree had been of any use, O’Keeffe, 48, was candid. “None whatsoever,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“Learning the ability to analyse and think about things broadly, it has helped in that respect.
“All education helps in this regard. However, I spent most of the time riding out or going racing, hence the 2:2. There was a point-to-point trainer in Hampshire or I’d go off to Fontwell and Newbury and have a thoroughly good time.”
After completing a one-year National Horse Management Course, with distinction, from Cambridgeshire Agricultural College, he became one of the stalwarts at the Middleham yard of former jockey Micky Hammond before setting up as a trainer.
His first runner, bought out of a claimer, was Lullaby who finished second at Chester.
His first winner was Route Sixty Six, over hurdles, in January 2001.
He has slowly expanded and now has 35 horses at stables leased from breeder and retired trainer Sally Hall.
“Middleham is just a great place to train racehorses,” he says. “The topography of the land lends itself to training because of the gallops that we have. It’s a great place to live and work. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
He’s the first to admit that he does not have what it takes to win the Betfred Ebor, a historic one-and-three-quarter mile handicap that was first run in 1843 and became regarded, for so long, as Yorkshire’s biggest betting race of the year when it was held midweek and factories gave their staff the day off to attend the Knavesmire.
Victory for one of the smaller Yorkshire yards would certainly add to the appeal and romance of a race switched to a Saturday slot in 2011 and now has to compete with six other cards for attention.
O’Keeffe – whose More Mischief was second at York on Thursday – says he does not know what it takes to win such a historic race. “A very good horse and one that is very well handicapped,” he quips. “I don’t know how well handicapped we are. Lord Yeats has gone up 20lb since the start of the season, but the Listed success means black type for his dam which is good news for the breeders. That was the objective.
“Ideally we’d want a bit more rain, but it can’t be too fast given the rain on Wednesday. I’ve been wanting to step him up to this trip for a while and I’m hoping it will bring about more improvement.”
Today’s rider is Danny Tudhope. He takes over from PJ McDonald who is in action at Goodwood today buoyed by yesterday’s Lonsdale Cup success aboard the Andrew Balding-trained Montaly.
The Chester Cup winner just beat Dartmouth – owned by the Queen – in a thrilling finish to the two mile contest. “I was taken off my feet early in the race. Coming out of the bend, the horse came good,” said McDonald who later completed a double courtesy of the Mark Johnston-trained Dream Today.
“Across the line I didn’t know I’d won. I thought I was second. It was a surprise when the lads said I’d got it. I’d been lucky enough to get a few spare rides for Mr Balding here at York so it’s nice to pay him back.”
A grafter in the Jedd O’Keeffe mould, he, for one, won’t begrudge Lord Yeats winning the Ebor for Yorkshire.