Joseph O’Brien has rare capacity to make absolute most of it
The son of the world’s most successful trainer has been paying attention in class
Trainer Joseph O’Brien and jockey Corey Brown pose for photographs after winning the Melbourne Cup at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne. Photograph: PA
Joseph O’Brien can recall his father, Aidan, advising him to “never let school get in the way of your education.”
In the early hours of Tuesday morning at the other side of the globe proof came vivid proof that the 24 year-old son of the world’s most successful trainer has been paying keen attention in class.
O’Brien Jnr saddled Rekindling to beat his father’s hope, Johannes Vermeer, in a thrilling finish that saw the Willie Mullins trained Max Dynamite finish third in an astounding Irish clean-sweep of Australia’s most prestigious sporting prize, the Melbourne Cup.
Not since Dermot Weld’s pioneering Cup victory with Vintage Crop in 1993 has such a resounding Irish stamp been put on ‘the race that stops a nation.’
Rarely can a pupil have so spectacularly beaten the teacher as Joseph O’Brien has on this occasion
Australia practically grinds to a halt every first Tuesday in November in order to watch the $6.2 million race at Flemington so an Irish 1-2-3 in ‘the Cup’ is likely to trump recent negative Irish accent publicity in spades.
When Vintage Crop altered the face of world racing Joseph O’Brien was just six months old, living in the stables at Piltown in Co. Kilkenny from which father was starting his ascent to the racing summit.
Within a couple of years the success Aidan O’Brien generated on ‘The Hill’ at Carriganog - the yard started by his father in law, Joe Crowley - had encouraged the Coolmore Stud boss, John Magnier, into installing him at the world famous Ballydoyle stables in Tipperary.
After a gloriously successful but inevitably brief career riding blue-blooded champions prepared by his father, Joseph O’Brien now trains at the old family stables which rise over 1,000 feet near Slievenamon and from which Rekindling has emerged to stun the racing world. Or at least some of it.
Rekindling’s Australian owner Lloyd Williams proclaimed at Flemington: “I have been telling anyone who will listen that Joseph will be the leading trainer in the world in years to come. His father needs to watch out. He’s an absolutely extraordinary young man and this is an amazing achievement.”
Not since 1941 had a three year old won the Melbourne Cup but Rekindling is in the hae’penny place compared to his trainer when it comes to precocity.
At almost six feet in height, the odds on O’Brien carving out any sort of riding career, never mind on the flat where making nine stone is a basic requirement, seemed long.
But after being crowned champion apprentice, the quietly-spoken teenager managed to pare his body to the minimum for almost five years, during which he was champion jockey twice and landed the Epsom-Curragh Derby double on two occasions.
Riding the best horses from the most powerful bloodstock operation in the world gave O’Brien unparalleled opportunities. However even the cattiest racing observers wound up acknowledging his riding abilities and above all his resolute determination in maintaining weight.
Ironically perhaps the most controversial race of his riding career came in Australia, the Derby winner beaten in the 2013 Irish Champion Stakes when O’Brien was widely criticised after being beaten by Ryan Moore.
With the English jockey taking over more and more of the Ballydoyle rides, O’Brien Jnr finally ended his battle with the scales 18 months ago by which time he was already training at Carriganog.
A first big-race success came at Cheltenham last year although Ivanovich Gorbatov’s Triumph Hurdle victory was technically credited to Aidan O’Brien as his son hadn’t received an official licence yet.
Within six months O’Brien saddled his first Group One winner on the flat, Intricately in the Moyglare Stud Stakes and he has continued to saddle winners over both codes, including Tigris River for JP McManus in this summer’s Galway Hurdle.
The patronage of McManus, Williams and the Coolmore partnership has given Ireland’s most successful young trainer a start-up opportunity others can only dream about but Rekindling’s Melbourne Cup is more startling proof of O’Brien’s capacity to make the most of it.
Having spent most of his life in the glare of public attention, O’Brien shares his father’s inclination towards maintaining a neutral image.
It was noticeable during his riding career that despite inevitable accusations of privilege he was liked by many of his jockey-room colleagues.
He remains a popular figure within racing circles, acknowledged as having a ready sense of humour and being a little less guarded than his father whose every public utterance can get analysed.
As Williams pointed out, there is a widespread belief the young man is the heir-apparent to the throne at Ballydoyle although neither he or his father have ever spoken in such terms.
Aidan O’Brien is after all still only 48 and acknowledged worldwide as a training master. But rarely can a pupil have so spectacularly beaten the teacher as Joseph O’Brien has on this occasion.