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Filly’s win extra special for Bill

ABOVE: Claire Williams, Bill Keenan, Eric Williams and Gordon Collins after Darling Be Good won at her first start at the 2013 Clifton Cup recently.
ABOVE: Claire Williams, Bill Keenan, Eric Williams and Gordon Collins after Darling Be Good won at her first start at the 2013 Clifton Cup recently. Linda Mantova

YOU could be forgiven for thinking Bill Keenan had won the lottery at last Saturday's Clifton Cup, such was the euphoria of the Clifton trainer.

The well-known local was over the moon when his horse, Darling Be Good, won at her first start.

What made the win extra special for Bill was that he bred, trained and owned the three-year-old filly.

I'd given up. I thought I was dead, as I couldn't breathe. Luckily the ambulance was in Clifton or I would have died.

To add to the occasion, Bill's parents, Paddy and Josie, met at the Clifton races more than half a century ago.

An only child, Bill admits he was spoilt rotten growing up in Clifton with strong links to a thoroughbred racing family.

His mother was a Byrne, whose family was heavily involved in the racing industry, with Bill's uncle, Paul, a chief stipendiary for Queensland Racing. He was named after another uncle, Bill Byrne, who used to train and farm at Spring Creek.

WINNING PARTNERSHIP: Bill Keenan and Darling Be Good at his Clifton stable complex.
WINNING PARTNERSHIP: Bill Keenan and Darling Be Good at his Clifton stable complex. Linda Mantova

 

Bill did a bit of strapping when he was a young boy and, as soon as he left school, he went working for a local trainer and jockey, his cousin, Danny Byrne.

"I worked alongside apprentice jockeys Paul Hamblin and Ron Goltz, who went on to be successful in their sport," Bill said.

"I worked for Danny for about 4½ years, and then went to Angaston, in the Barossa Valley, and worked for Colin Hayes at Lindsay Park."

Bill strapped for some great horses but counts Mrs Fitzherbert as the best.

"She won seven straight city races, including the Robert A Lee Stakes at Morphettville," he said.

"I was a strapper for Colin for about two years and then spent time working for the leading steeplechase trainer in Victoria, Eric Musgrove.

"That's where I learnt to ride. He gave me confidence and taught me how to break in horses properly. He taught me to keep my cool breaking horses."

Bill then returned home to Clifton at Christmas time, 1988, when his mother suffered a stroke.

"I've been home ever since, except for a stint training at Gympie," he said.

"I set up my own business, mostly breaking in and pre-training horses."

Bill reckons training horses is the easy part.

"Handling the owners and not going broke is the hard part," he said.

Bill believes nine out of 10 horses aren't any good.

"I believe in always putting the horse first and I will tell the owner straight away if the horse is no good, rather than take their money," he said.

"However, in the first 12 months it is all one way to the trainer, and it may take two or three years to find out if you're just taking the owner's money.

"Owning a race horse is like going on holidays or buying a new car - it is money you have to be able to afford to lose."

Bill has been training at Clifton now for about 25 years and, during his time, has trained about 50 winners.

Last Saturday's win with Darling Be Good, ranks up there with the best of them though.

"The filly is by Carry The Flag, which stood at Lyndhurst Stud, Warwick, and is now deceased," Bill explained.

"Her mother, Pure Angel, which I also trained, is by Lion Hunter.

"I bred Darling Be Good with Gordon Collins, of Warwick, and we formed a syndicate to lease her and race her."

Bill said the other members of the syndicate include Brendan Bange, Clifton, Ray Stevens, Millmerran, Gerard Byrne, Mundubbera, Peter Cooke, Pilton, and Eric Williams, Brisbane.

"I was thrilled with how she ran and how she won by two and a half lengths," he said.

"However, she is the worst horse I've ever broken in as she is super stubborn."

Bill recalled his first winner, Tarrawatta Boy, back in 1989 at Warwick.

"It was owned by Tony Kelly but I leased it and trained it and that was the slowest race I've ever seen. He never won another one," Bill said.

"It was a special win also as Dad got to see me train a winner and he passed away the following year," he said.

Bill, himself, is lucky to be still with us after a serious fall from a horse five years ago.

"I was riding about 14 per day at that time and the horse reared back over me.

"I was just in a hurry. It was completely my fault," he said.

Bill suffered a fractured pelvis and broke every rib, as well as having his lungs pierced in three different places by his broken ribs.

"The ambos thought I died three times on the way to hospital in Toowoomba," he said.

"I'd given up. I thought I was dead, as I couldn't breathe. Luckily the ambulance was in Clifton or I would have died."

Bill spent five weeks in the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, and has since made a full recovery.

"I stayed with relatives, Eric and Margaret Williams at Petrie when I got out of hospital and their daughter, Claire, nursed me back to health," he said.

"I also got a lot of support from members of the Clifton Jockey Club after my accident, which I won't forget.

"I would like to thank Ron Bell who feeds my horses of an arvo and helps me at the track."

Bill now works the night shift at John Dee Abattoirs in Warwick and does track work during the day.

He believes he has been fortunate to work with animals he loves.

"One thing I do know is that you never stop learning about horses. The day you stop learning about horses is the day you die."

Topics:  clifton cup equestrian horse racing horses