Joseph O’Brien in a hurry to get to the top of the training world

Already a champion jockey, the 23-year-old now embarks on training career

Having been handed perhaps the shiniest silver spoon in racing, no one can deny Joseph O’Brien’s capacity to cause a stir.

At 23, and already finished one career as champion jockey, Aidan O’Brien’s eldest has officially been a trainer for eight months and already in the bag are coveted Group/Grade 1 prizes on the flat and over jumps.

With his mother Annemarie having bred Intricately, and the filly being ridden by his teenage brother Donnacha, not to mention how two fillies trained by his legendary father were vanquished, that Moyglare victory was one of the stories of “Irish Champions Weekend” in September.

There was also no doubt about who was responsible. Ivanovich Gorbatov’s Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in March will officially go down in history as having been trained by Aidan O’Brien since his son’s licence hadn’t been officially processed in time.


So in a sport consumed by speed, no one seems in a fiercer hurry than the still whip-thin and intense figure roped in by Leopardstown on Monday to help promote their upcoming €1.3 million Christmas festival and provide a dash of colour.

That the colour for a corralled bus full of media types perched on the side of a freezing south Kilkenny hill turned out to be freezing blue was hardly a shock given it’s only a month to Christmas. Nor can it have been a surprise that O’Brien jnr trod warily around us.

Professional and polite

Always professional and polite, there is nevertheless plenty of his father in how any public utterance is carefully gelded of any potential controversy. And since it’s hardly his job to provide colour on cue, it was left to the cold hill of Carriganog to fill in.

That it is the most famous racing hill in Ireland certainly helped warm a few cockles. It was here from unpromising beginnings that Joe Crowley carved out the start of a racing dynasty. His daughter Annemarie briefly took over before her new husband Aidan took over the licence and trained with such success "up the hill" that John Magnier came a wooing for the ultimate training job in Ballydoyle.

It’s almost 20 years since Aidan stopped the 45-minute commute between the two establishments. In that time the gallops in Ownings were used by other local trainers. But long before Joseph inevitably lost his battle with weight there was no question about a third generation returning home.

It’s a dream set-up for any trainer, never mind someone starting out and still only 23. Maybe the only valid comparison is with Vincent O’Brien’s son David, who briefly swept all before him in the early 1980s before retiring early due to the pressures of the job.

That seems an unlikely scenario for someone who whittled his six-foot frame down to under nine stone for so long. And it is perhaps the mystique of Ballydoyle that contributes towards similarly regular speculation about what this remarkably successful young man can ultimately achieve.

Racing grapevine

Believe racing’s grapevine and he’s in line to take over from his father at the world’s most powerful bloodstock operation sooner rather than later. That there’s often jealousy contained in such whispers is as inevitable as the reality that O’Brien is hardly in a position to change his pedigree. Besides, the grapevine looks off given the facilities being added all the time at Ownings.

“We have 120 horses here, half and half between flat and jumps and I’d like to keep it that way if possible,” O’Brien said before hurrying off to examine horses schooling and leaving the hack pack to his uncle-in-law, the jockeys’ agent and racing channel presenter Kevin O’Ryan.

“He’s so like Aidan,” O’Ryan said. “The system here is so simple, it’s routine; people don’t realise; there’s no exact science about it.”

Comparisons to his father are for life, especially now that he has gone down the training route, a craft at which Aidan O’Brien is unquestionably the most successful in the world.

The resonances of that have been a constant for his son in many positive ways. For instance, consider the batch of cast-off Ballydoyle three-year-olds purchased by JP McManus to go jumping which would form the basis of most flat operations anywhere else.

Landofhopeandglory has already won twice over flights and Sword Fighter and Bhutan in particular are others to note. O'Brien is already being quoted as favourite to win the Triumph again in March. By then, more than 40 two-year-olds, double last year's tally, will be revving up for the flat as well.

It’s enough probably to make his opposition’s Christmas feel a lot less merry, and lot more blue.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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