Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 22 April 2018

Heir apparent lays claim to wealth of opportunities

Joseph O'Brien has assumed the status of Ballydoyle's No 1 at the perfect time, writes Ian McClean

In Arthurian legend, Camelot is a place of fantasy. It must seem hardly credible for the 19 years young Joseph O'Brien that life has suddenly found him in a similar place.

It was less than three years ago that he rode his first winner. In one sense the rise and rise of the eldest son of the greatest racehorse trainer of our (or perhaps any) time would have seemed inevitable were it not for the physical rise and rise that left him towering on the verge of six feet tall.

For the whole of the last Flat season, Ryan Moore was offered the pick of Ballydoyle's cherries, from the early Classic trials in the UK and Ireland, through the Classics themselves, to Royal Ascot and all the calendar's headline events, forming a signature partnership in particular with showcase horse So You Think.

Moore's status was so ingrained he could afford a questionable defeat on So You Think at Royal Ascot before discarding him in the Eclipse and the Arc in favour of Workforce yet he still regained the ride in both Ascot's Champion Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Little wonder, especially in light of Michael Stoute's dramatic loss of form (didn't even have a runner in either Newmarket Classic last weekend) that by late autumn Moore's intimates were adamant he intended a formal commitment with the Coolmore outfit for the 2012 season.

However, through forces as mysterious as a Google search, a different reality entirely has been born. It has no doubt in part been influenced by Joseph O'Brien's Group One win on Camelot in the Racing Post Trophy last back-end, backed by his emotional family victory on St Nicholas Abbey at the Breeders' Cup. Even then, the strain of containing his weight was revealed by his mother Anne Marie when she said, "Poor Joseph, I don't think he'll stop eating for a fortnight now."

As recently as January 2011, the HRI website recorded, "Joseph O'Brien is improving all the time and while his weight is likely to prove to be a barrier to his long-term future in the saddle, his future almost certainly lies in a career in training."

However, the serendipitous raising of the domestic minimum weight earlier this year (all conditions races are now nine stone minimum, while maidens range from nine to nine stone five) has greatly smoothed the passage for O'Brien in the meantime. Back in March, he was available at 6/1 to win the Irish jockeys' title; he is 6/4 today.

In the absence of any formal announcement, we are left to ourselves to interpret the tea leaves and the first signal of intent arrived in late March when Joseph was booked to partner So You Think in the Dubai World Cup. Since the opening of the Flat season he has, by and large, been granted the pick of the Ballydoyle crop at all times.

Contrast last week at Chester -- where Joseph rode three winners for his father including two Group Threes -- with the same meeting last year when it was Ryan Moore doing the steering to bring home the two Group races for the yard.

It is ultimately ironic then, that after a vintage first classic win on Camelot at Newmarket last Saturday, Joseph should have been upstaged on the favourite for the 1,000 Guineas by Ryan Moore aboard lesser-fancied stablemate Homecoming Queen the next day.

Marcus Aurelius once remarked that "when greatness is expected of a man, he will be great" and it is without question that 'the boys' at Coolmore obviously rate the young O'Brien. As well as knowing their horses, they must also know their jockeys. After all, he certainly has the pedigree and you cannot question his temperament -- like his father with an extra dash of relaxation. His reaction after winning both Group Ones on Camelot was just like he was pulling up after a piece of work at home. Which, in fairness, is what it was like at Doncaster.

However, it couldn't have been more opposite at Newmarket last Saturday where the ride on Camelot demonstrated the blend of confidence and slick judgement inherent in all champions. Yet he treated both rides, like Kipling, just the same. Mind you, the folly of youth still has the capacity to raise itself as in the matters of the St Nicholas Abbey ride at The Curragh, or the Cheshire Oaks whip ban last week.

The hiring process at Ballydoyle since its latest inception cannot be faulted, boasting as it does an impressive roster of world-class jockeys; Murtagh, Kinane, Fallon, Spencer and Roche. Yet the retention policy has been flawed. It can only be assumed that communication is easier all round with the present arrangement. It helps that Joseph is hands-on and has been riding out the horses since he was younger.

The immediate future looks rosy for the young O'Brien: 19 domestic winners already; Camelot favourite for the Derby; talk of an historic Triple Crown; Ballydoyle with an almighty hand in the Oaks; the yard just 3/1 to win all five UK Classics. The only blot on the sky-blue landscape is the lurking cloud of weight. Just turned 19, Joseph must be looking forward with relish. Just not Ballymaloe relish.

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