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Champion novice O'Keeffe joins professional ranks

Champion novice O'Keeffe joins professional ranks

Sean O’Keeffe will not attempt to defend his champion novice rider title when the 2018/19 point-to-point season gets underway at Toomebridge in October, as the Wexford rider has this week joined the professional ranks.

Two rides for local trainer Barry Murphy on Thursday on the opening day of the Tramore August Racing Festival will begin his new career inside the rails.
 
The 19-year-old had made a big impression last season in what was just his third campaign point-to-pointing, recording 11 winners from 59 rides including four in the ultra-competitive four-year-old maiden division. That was enough to see him take a share of the title with Shane Fitzgerald, and cap-off what was certainly a breakthrough year.
 
“I didn’t expect it at all at the start of the season being honest with you,” explained O’Keeffe.  
 
“I had only ten rides in point-to-points before last season and they were all for my father really. I rode a bumper winner for Liz (Doyle) on just my second ride on the track and that really helped to bring everything along.
 
“I started getting a good few rides in bumpers for Liz and people see you more. Denis Hickey was also very good to me and gave me my first three point-to-point winners last season. When I got to five winners and got level with Shane (Fitzgerald), that’s when I started to think about the title, and that I might stand a chance. 
 
“It was great to win the title, especially when you see all the people that have won it in the past. A lot of the top amateurs and top professionals have all won it before, so it was brilliant.”
 
The novice rider’s title, which has been awarded in its present form to the leading rider who was under-21 at the beginning of the point-to-point season since 1991, has a history of producing top-class riders, including the likes of Adrian Maguire, Paul Moloney, Timmy Murphy, Davy Russell, Andrew McNamara and Andrew Lynch, who all achieved big races success after winning the novice title between the flags, before embarking on a career within the professional ranks.
 
For O’Keeffe the desire to graduate from the point-to-point fields into the professional ranks has been one that he has long held.
 
“I have always wanted to go professional and after I started to do well in the point-to-point’s the decision was really when was I going to turn. 
 
“I spoke to a few jockeys and a lot of the local trainers around me and they were all very supportive and said that it would be the right thing to do. My weight is good now, so I will have a seven-pound claim and will be able to do most light weights. 
 
“I will be based with Liz Doyle, Paul Nolan and Denis Hickey here in Wexford. There are a good few small trainers in Wexford that I would be hoping to link up with. It’s a busy enough place and hopefully there will be a good few opportunities.”
 
Point-to-Point riders that have made the switch to the professional ranks in recent seasons have made a big impact, with the last two champion conditional jockey’s, Rachael Blackmore and Donal McInerney, both having started their careers in the saddle between the flags.
 
O’Keeffe will be represented by agent Ken Whelan and will be aboard Hitchcock (6pm) and Shakadame (6.30pm) on his first day as a professional jockey. 
 

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