O'Brien scales back on riding duties to put focus on training
Joseph O'Brien has confirmed that he will scale back his riding career next year as he prepares to send out his first runner as a handler, possibly as soon as Sunday in a point-to-point.
In tandem with his riding duties at Ballydoyle, the two-time champion jockey has this year been overseeing the training of his father Aidan's jumps horses at the family home place on Carriganog Hill in Owning, Co Kilkenny.
The transition has resulted in an upsurge in fortunes for their jumpers, and O'Brien Jnr has his first entry in his own name at Sunday's Galway Blazers fixture in Loughrea, having acquired a handler's cert from the Turf Club.
The expectation is that he will soon progress to a full licence to take charge of the Owning operation, and that development might now be edging closer.
Last night on Twitter, in a statement outlining his commitments in Owning, O'Brien said: "I don't intend to race ride as much next year but I will combine riding work in Ballydoyle and looking after the horses in Owning Hill. I am also looking forward to having some point-to-point runners.
"We have a nice team of horses under all codes at Owning Hill, both our own and for outside owners. I am looking forward to the upcoming seasons."
O'Brien has frequently excelled in his role as deputy to Ryan Moore this term, but his towering frame means that he is in a constant battle with the scales, a predicament that played a large part in his demotion behind Moore. Minella For Me, his Loughrea entry, is owned by John Nallen, who in recent years has rented stables at the yard in Owning in his guise as a permit holder.
The Clonmel hotelier has a rich historical association with the O'Brien clan, as Aidan and Anne Marie O'Brien trained and rode winners for him in their youth. Nallen's best horses in those days were Hotel Minella and Minella Lad, a popular campaigner that both Aidan and Anne Marie rode and trained to victory.
Minella Lad won 10 times in total and finished third in the old Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham in 1994. He and Hotel Minella, which was chinned by Collier Bay in the 1996 Irish Champion Hurdle, were among the first flagbearers of the fledgling O'Brien powerhouse, so it is fitting to see the trainer's talented 22-year-old son renewing the link.
"There are around 10 point-to-pointers to run and they're all horses that will hopefully be sold at some stage," Nallen said of his delegation. "Basically, the operation isn't changing. I'm just going from being a permit holder to being an owner and the horses will run in Joseph's name. Minella For Me is down to run this weekend, but we're having summer weather here at the moment and we wouldn't want to run him on real good ground."
Minella For Me was acquired by Nallen for €50,000 as a three-year-old and would be making his debut in a maiden at the Loughrea fixture were he to run. Judging by Nallen's comments, he is in need of rain, in contrast to Ballydoyle's mud-shy Classic hero, Gleneagles.
He will be declared this morning for Saturday's QE II Stakes back at Ascot and O'Brien is to walk the track tomorrow night, with the ground on the straight course officially good to soft.
Should he deem conditions too soft, Gleneagles is expected to gallop at Southwell in preparation for a tilt at the Breeders' Cup Classic.
If the markets are anything to go by, he might be destined to head straight for a thrilling clash with the Triple Crown hero American Pharoah at Keeneland on October 31. A 7/4 shot in places on Monday for the QE II, Gleneagles has now drifted to as big as 7/2 behind the odds-on favourite, Solow.
Meanwhile, Jim Bolger has confirmed that his 1,000 Guineas and Yorkshire Oaks winner Pleascach is finished for the season, though he indicated that Sheikh Mohammed would have the final say on whether or not she would race on next year.