Joseph O’Brien looks to Melbourne Cup after Iridessa success
Aidan O’Brien and son Joseph have seven of the 24 runners in field on Tuesday morning
Wayne Lordan and Iridessa after victory in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty
Having secured a first Breeders Cup training success through Iridessa, the record-breaking Joseph O’Brien transfers his international ambitions to more familiar ground with four runners in Tuesday morning’s Lexus Melbourne Cup.
Two years ago the Irishman famously beat his father Aidan in the ‘Race that stops a Nation’ as Rekindling emerged best at Flemington.
This time, in an astonishing display of strength in depth, father and son will have seven of the 24 runners between them when the field line up at 4am Irish-time for a race shown live on Sky Sports Racing.
For once Aidan O’Brien is in the unusual position of playing ‘catch up’ having first tried to win one of the world’s most famous races 13 years ago with the superb Yeats.
Since then he has found the Cup to be alternately frustrating, as when Johannes Vermeer finished runner up to Rekindling, annoying, after stewards quizzed him over race tactics for his three runners in 2008, and devastating last year when Cliffs Of Moher sustained fatal injuries early in the race.
Cliffs Of Moher was the sixth Melbourne Cup runner to lose its life, either on the day, or shortly afterwards due to injuries sustained in the race, over the last six years.
It means an inevitable welfare focus on Australian racing’s most high-profile day of the year, akin to the weekend’s Breeders’ Cup action at Santa Anita, where no incidents were reported until the concluding Classic, won by Vino Rosso, in which Mongolian Groom sustained fatal injuries.
It was a regrettable note to end a meeting at which O’Brien and jockey Wayne Lordan ultimately saved European blushes after Iridessa won at 13-1 in the $2 million Filly & Mare.
It was a first Breeders Cup success of any kind for 37-year-old Lordan while O’Brien continues to smash records through a training career that officially began only three years ago.
Having become the youngest Breeders’ Cup winning jockey at 18, when riding St Nicholas Abbey to success, the 26-year-old also became the youngest winning trainer at US racing’s showpiece event. Only he and Frenchman Freddy Head have both ridden and trained a Breeders’ Cup winner.
It’s rarefied company only marginally less exclusive than O’Brien joining his father, Vincent O’Brien and John Oxx in an elite group of successful Irish based trainers at the Breeders Cup.
It continues the momentum of an astonishingly precocious start to a career even more accomplished than O’Brien Snr at the same age.
Having also been the youngest ever Melbourne Cup winning trainer, the impression Joseph O’Brien has made ‘down under’ is reflected in a quartet of Cup runners all owned by local Australian connections.
They include last year’s Irish Derby hero Latrobe who, like Twilight Payment and Master Of Reality, is owned by the six-time Cup winner Lloyd Williams.
The other contender, Downdraft, earned a spot in the race by winning at Flemington on Saturday. He will be ridden by Cork born former jump jockey Johnny Allen.
The most notable of O’Brien’s jockey bookings however is Frankie Dettori on Master Of Reality. It is the Italian’s 17th Melbourne Cup ride having first ridden in the race six months after O’Brien was born. That was in the pioneering 1993 renewal won by Vintage Crop.
Since then Dettori has been runner-up twice and at time attracted vehement local criticism into the bargain, especially when getting a month’s ban after losing on Willie Mullins’s Max Dynamite in 2015.
That’s a streak to put Aidan O’Brien’s Cup frustration in perspective although there could ultimately prove to be another twist to that in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Up to September, the Ballydoyle trainer’s three runners, Magic Wand, Il Paradiso and Hunting Horn, had Constantinople as a stable companion.
Then the son of Galileo was transferred to Melbourne-based trainer David Hayes although, significantly, the Coolmore team has retained some of the ownership.
Constantinople revealed quirks to go with his talent on this side of the world. But he left many observers hugely impressed on his Australian debut when an unlucky fourth in last month’s Caulfield Cup.
Whether those quirks reflect a lack of resolution or simply inexperience will be found out in a race with no hiding place. However two miles around Flemington’s wide expanse should suit and any ease in the ground won’t be a problem.
Crucially the ex-Irish horse holds a similar profile to both Rekindling and last year’s winner Cross Counter as a progressive northern-hemisphere three-year-old on the up and with perhaps something in hand of the handicapper.
Hong Kong’s champion jockey Joao Moreira seems to think so and is jetting to Melbourne for the ride. The horse even has a perfect draw in seven unlike six of the Irish hopes who are all in double-digit boxes. The exception is Master Of Reality on the very inside.
Dettori will hope that works to his advantage. He already knows he’s got the plus of riding for a trainer already on top of the world.