Racing: Kinane follows Piggott's path to perfection

218th DERBY: From a fancy-dress rehearsal at the age of 10 through a life of dedication Entrepreneur's rider is always prepared; Richard Edmondson talks to the favourite's jockey with the punch to fend off pressure
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The Independent Online
If Entrepreneur does not win the Derby this afternoon they will find somebody to blame. As Greville Starkey will be able to tell Michael Kinane, when the posse mobilises and comes through the night with their torches, the meeting point will be the defeated jockey's home.

Starkey partnered numerous Classic winners in his enduring career, but the one ride he is remembered for was around Epsom's cambers one June day in 1986. Shahrastani won, but, more memorably, Dancing Brave lost and the belief is that Grev was caught napping.

They say Kinane could sleep on cheese wire and the prospect of steering the odds-on Entrepreneur over the undulating battleground of the Surrey Downs has not disturbed the Irishman's reverie this week either. "Naturally enough everyone's attention is going to be on my every move, but then your own self-confidence to see the job through comes in and I've no great worries about the race," he says.

"If anybody says they're not nervous on Derby day then they're lying. The apprehension is all part and parcel of rising to the occasion, because you've got to be pysched up for the job. But I've no qualms about that side of it at all because I'm in an enviable position and others have more reason to worry than I do."

Michael Kinane has been a dramatic influence in British racing ever since he replaced Pat Eddery, who was committed to another horse, on the 1990 2,000 Guineas winner, Tirol. He was initially christened supersub, but the last syllable has long since disappeared.

Serendipity has continued to choose him as her favourite son. He has been united with further excellent horses by accident, most notably Belmez, Commander In Chief and now Entrepreneur, who was Walter Swinburn's ride until the ravages of a starvation diet removed him from the saddle.

Kinane has worked hard at his natural talents, buffing them up rather than letting rust creep in through misuse. He prepares for a race like no other man in the weighing room.

Kinane used to buy the tapes from the closed-circuit television people to analyse his mistakes, and to this day spends hours assessing both his and other horses in a race, and how the encounter will unfold. The rider watched videos of the previous 20 Melbourne Cups before his victory on Vintage Crop in 1993.

Much of this musing takes place as he is shaving at his home on the Curragh, where he has been buying land around Clunemore Lodge down the years in a buffer-state policy. If an intruder had to plant a bug on the premises, the optimum position would be in his bathroom, behind one of three framed photographs depicting, respectively, Marilyn Monroe, a fat lady on a bike and a gorilla looking at a club sandwich.

This practice, in his mind, is what gets Kinane closer to perfection than most. "It's not what he does well, it's what he does badly, and that's not a lot," John Reid, Kinane's fellow Irishman and Derby winner, says. "He doesn't make mistakes.

"He's got bags of ability, but more importantly he wants to work hard. I've known he was a very good rider for a long time, but until you prove yourself in England nobody wants to know. With Michael it's like a bottle of milk. No matter how many times you keep shaking, the cream will always come back to the top."

Kinane's adherence to Baden-Powell philosophy has been particulary acute this week. "It's very important in racing to be prepared and on Derby day I will be," he says. "I'll know what I want to do through the race and I'll have run it over thousands of times in my head. The tactics will be in order and from then on it will be down to concentration.

"I know the track very well and I know all the recent Derbys, I can replay them in my mind. I can remember at least as far back as when Lester started winning [on Never Say Die in 1954] and I love watching him as the tactical master.

"All his Derby rides are memorable for his brilliance round there and, if you watch him, he was the only one who never seemed to be out of position at any time in the race."

While Piggott was all guile in the saddle and Dettori is sleek with the fast hands of a card sharp, the sensation with Kinane is of a terrible force building up behind a horse's neck.

One of his idiosyncrasies is that he grips his mounts' manes rather than the reins when he jumps out of the stalls, a technique he witnessed in the United States. At a finish, he pushes his fists so forcefully into the neck of his conveyances that he is sometimes actually punching them.

Kinane does not indulge in the post-race circus tumbles of Dettori, but spectators cannot miss his reaction, particularly if he is denied. His body seems to struggle to contain the rage that is erupting inside.

Kinane is an appalling loser. His two young daughters know better than to beat him at draughts. He admits he is moody and the prisoner of his own thoughts, a condition which is made all the more frightening when the hairy barbed wire of his luxuriant fair eyebrows knots together.

Thus he is not one of those jockeys who sprinkles guests in a marquee with light repartee before going out to ride. If you are feeling lucky you can call him Mickey-Joe, as the braver in the weighing room spoof him. The surname is pronounced Kin-anne, as in the christian name.

This figure is from a racing family (his father Tommy won the 1978 Champion Hurdle on Monksfield) and it is fair to say not much else has occupied his mind during 37 years on the planet. When he attended a fancy-dress party aged 10 he went as Piggott.

Another building block towards our man's character was his youthful period with Liam Browne, the Irish trainer who also produced the likes of Tommy Carmody, Mark Dwyer and Warren O'Connor. For many others Browne's stable was a different type of finishing school, an apprentice academy which was like Tenko without the creature comforts.

Kinane has emerged from this whitest of kilns to become the multiple champion of Ireland (thanks largely to the patronage of Dermot Weld) and a leading player in Hong Kong. The translation of his name into Chinese means dark tiger, which is good feng shui for the gambling-demented public in the colony.

Kinane showed he was up to winning a Derby with Commander In Chief's triumph in 1993, the day he remembers "they were strung out behind me like a long line of brown cows". But now he is asked to withstand the metal-buckling pressure of piloting an odds-on shot around the world's most demanding circuit. His partner, ironically enough, has been prepared in much of his work on the Newmarket trial grounds by Starkey.

Entrepreneur has engendered excitement from the moment he surged away with the 2,000 Guineas last month. "The horse had speed at half-way when I really needed it," Kinane says. "He showed great acceleration to kick in and really grab hold of the race. It's always a sign of a good horse when he can take control at any time in a race. It was a great performance because he raced for the whole eight furlongs of the Guineas and not every horse is adaptable enough to do that."

Like many sportsmen, Kinane has been collected by the narcotic effect of winning at the highest level. "The hunger does not diminish," he says. "Once you get a taste of it you want more. That's what motivates you as you get older. What keeps me going more than anything is the big races and trying to get on good horses.

"It would be better to win the Derby this time because it would be more recent. You can't live on memories, they don't feed the children." We know by now, however, that when the stalls crash open at 3.45 this afternoon not even little Sinead or Aisling will be on the mind of the man emerging from stall No 13.

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