Sunday 21 January 2018

'I do not miss the race-riding one bit - not one bit' - Joseph O'Brien

Joseph O’Brien is revelling in his new role as trainer in Piltown, where it all began for his dad and grand-dad, as he tells Johnny Ward

Trainer Joseph O Brien with Ivanovich Gorbatov in his yard in Kilkenny.
Trainer Joseph O Brien with Ivanovich Gorbatov in his yard in Kilkenny.

Around 50 two-year-olds are returning from near the top of Joseph O'Brien's gallops, the young trainer breaking from his chat with some visitors on a day organised by BoyleSports to check in with the riders.

"Alright Jason?"

"Good Joseph."

"Alright Ali?"

"Good Joseph."

"Alright Emma?"

"Good Joseph."

If ever one needed affirmation that he remains his father's son, that was it: Aidan has long embraced the same formula to confirm that the work-riders are happy with their steeds after a little exercise.

It was almost as though he was doing an impression of his dad.

Earlier, a Shamardal spooked going into the gallops and edged skittishly towards a nearby ditch, the visitors startled.

"Just correct your right-hand rein Sarah," O'Brien says, utterly in control. There would be no panic and this raw juvenile soon consented to ride out with the remainder.

It was a fascinating insight into how babyish they are - many shy of their actual second birthday, trained by a man aged 23. Three of them are by Galileo.

We were there ostensibly to talk Cheltenham but Joseph's dual-purpose status means that there is a lot going on: he ran five horses in a Flat handicap last night.

That's near the figure he'll bring to the Festival: Edwulf (National Hunt Chase or RSA), Landofhopeandglory (Triumph), Zig Zag (Fred Winter), West Coast Time (50-50 for the Bumper) and Ivanovich Gorbatov (Coral Cup or County). Not a formidable team; enough to give him hope.

Not that he will get too ecstatic or too down - an essential trait for a trainer. There was not a single interruption beside the barns afterwards as he answered questions about his career.

Does he miss riding?

"Not a bit. It's unusual I suppose. I only ride out Sundays as we don't have as many staff in.

"When I was riding towards the end, I wanted to be here; it felt like an effort to leave to go to the races. If they put up minimum weights by half a stone I'd have no interest in going back riding."

Get much time off, considering you are a dual-code trainer?

(Laughing) "I don't do well when I'm not busy. I went away for three days there a while ago. I was in Barbados. We went for two weeks one year (as a family) and nearly killed each other!"

What's it like training horses your brother and sisters win on?

"I love it. Intricately, Donnacha winning the Moyglare was the biggest kick I got out of anything."

When he speaks at the races, he comes across like his dad - a bit shy, exceedingly measured - but they share a depth of knowledge and understanding of the game that is impressive.

He talks about the problems he already envisages in the sport and believes there are grey clouds beyond the horizon.

"Irish people are getting bigger, heavier, stronger. Those who'd have been small as kids and pushed into becoming a jockey… that doesn't happen so much anymore. There will be more coming from abroad but getting visas and permits is not easy at all.

"I hope to God they start rising the weights. There'll be no Irish or English jockeys left. It'll be like America now: no American jockeys.

"Horses are ridden out carrying 11st. There's no big deal. Even if they rose the weights 5lb, it'd help. There's no downside to horses carrying more weight in races."

It can get bitterly cold here in Owning, Kilkenny, close to the Tipperary and Waterford borders.

That famous hill, rising 340 feet from start to finish, can only get horses extremely fit - the brainchild of his grandfather Joe Crowley.

Joe was before his time and one of his five daughters, Anne Marie, married Aidan O'Brien, who revised the gallops to a degree and must now be buzzing to see his eldest son training there.

"If I've any excuse not to train winners here, the set-up certainly isn't one," Joseph (left) says.

What of his team the week after next?

He effectively trained Ivanovich Gorbatov (which ran in his father's name) to win the Triumph so he knows what is required, though the hugely talented team he got from Ballydoyle to go jumping as juveniles this season has not worked out as well as might have been envisaged.

"Edwulf has had a few jumping issues and if I can get a clear run with him he'd have to have a good chance. We have a couple of chances without having one outstanding one.

"Winning the Triumph last year with Ivanovich Gorbatov was unbelievable and I feel the faster pace will suit him very much in whatever race he goes for."

Then there is West Coast Time, second to hot Bumper favourite Carter Mckay at Naas. "I'd like to think he'd be able to be with Carter McKay at the furlong marker one day and we could see what happens then."

He takes slagging, like his dad, and, if they're remarkably similar, he is very much his own man.

"Dad is very rarely here," he says, though he is never more than a phone call away. The cycle continues.

Irish Independent

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