Joseph O’Brien aims to join exclusive Derby club with Rekindling

Just four men have ridden and trained a Derby winner in the race’s long history

Joseph O’Brien: will be bidding to join an illustrious group when Rekindling lines up in the Epsom Derby on Saturday. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Rekindling is a 25-1 outsider for Saturday’s Investec Epsom Derby but if the colt manages to win racing’s ‘Blue-Riband’ he will put his trainer Joseph O’Brien in the most exclusive of classic company.

Just four men in the Derby’s illustrious 237-year history have both ridden and trained winners of the world’s most famous flat race.

However, just three years after O’Brien rode to Derby success for a second time on board Australia, the 24-year-old former champion jockey has an opportunity to pull off a remarkable double on Saturday. And history indicates long odds are no barrier to managing it either.

The last man to do the double was the legendary Englishman Harry Wragg who won the Derby three times as a jockey and in 1961 trained Psidium to record a shock 66-1 success at Epsom.


In contrast, Rekindling will line up having notched up a success in an established Derby trial, last month’s Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown which was won a year ago by the subsequent Epsom hero Harzand.

He was the fourth Irish-trained Derby winner in the last five years and the potential distinction of becoming the 20th Epsom Derby winner trained in this country lies in store for Rekindling or indeed any of Aidan O’Brien’s seven current contenders.

The notable prospect of emulating the six Derby victories of his Ballydoyle predecessor is in front of O’Brien Snr. However even his exalted standards never extended to the prospect his son has of both training and riding a Derby winner.

Typically, that wasn’t’t being entertained by Joseph O’Brien on Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t even let myself think like that,” he said.

But in a year lacking a stand-out star such as Australia, or his 2012 mount Camelot, Rekindling goes to Epsom with some confidence behind him.

Better ground

“If he had done at York in the Dante what he did at Leopardstown the first day [Ballysax] he would be a lot shorter. He didn’t like the ground at York. He travelled good into the straight and then he was all over the place on the ground,” O’Brien said.

“He doesn’t want it firm and he doesn’t want it heavy but apart from that I think he’ll be okay. Better ground you’d think would suit him at Epsom,” he added.

Like the dual-1,000 Guineas winner Winter, Rekindling was trained by David Wachman as a two year old and it was Wayne Lordan who rode the colt to win the Ballysax.

O’Brien’s brother, Donnacha, was in the plate in the Dante and final riding arrangements for Epsom are unlikely to be made before Thursday’s final declaration.

Rekindling races in the colours of multiple Melbourne Cup winner Lloyd Williams and he told Australian media last month: “Joseph has a number of horses for me and I’m very enthusiastic about his future. I’ve raced horses for over 50 years and experience tells me he is perfectly placed to reach the top.”

Ballydoyle’s Rhododendron has gone odds-on in some lists for Friday’s Oaks at Epsom and one old rival she won’t have to deal with is Intricately.

Joseph O’Brien’s Group One-winning filly just failed to make the frame behind Winter in Sunday’s Irish 1,000 Guineas and although she is still in the Oaks she will not be accompanying Rekindling to Epsom.

“It’s very unlikely she’ll run in the Oaks. Instead we might go either to Ascot or wait for the Pretty Polly with her,” the trainer said.

The Pretty Polly during Irish Derby weekend in just over a month is also an option for Saturday’s Group Two winner Creggs Pipes and trainer Andy Slattery is also thinking further afield in terms of future top-flight targets.

“We’re either going to go to the Duke Of Cambridge (Royal Ascot) or to the Pretty Polly,” Slattery said.

“We’re also half-thinking of going to the EP Taylor in Woodbine. Declan [McDonogh] just thought the race would suit her. He’s ridden a few fillies that have been placed in it and he thinks the race would be tailor-made for her.

“She’ll have a run first. There’s just over a week between Ascot and the Pretty Polly so it will be one or the other. We might keep her here for the Pretty Polly and work from there,” the Co Tipperary trainer added.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column