Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 26 January 2020

It is Aidan O'Brien who continues to set the bar, but the children were learning and listening

Fakir D’Oudaries, pictured riding out at Jospeh O’Brien’s yard in Kilkenny, is one of the most electric novice chasers around. Photo: Morgan Treacy
Fakir D’Oudaries, pictured riding out at Jospeh O’Brien’s yard in Kilkenny, is one of the most electric novice chasers around. Photo: Morgan Treacy

Daragh O Conchúir

When David Walsh's end-of-year interview with Aidan O'Brien featured in this publication, the future Hall of Famer was champion National Hunt trainer and, a few months previously, had become the first conditioner to saddle the first three home in the Galway Plate - led by Life Of A Lord.

As he speaks, young Joseph plays with tractor, trailer and horses. He is at that point in his game when the horses need to be nourished and he quietly pours some milk from his cup into the trailer. Then he dips the horse's head into the milk, until the head is completely submerged.

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"Ah Joseph," says his father, "that's not the way a horse likes to drink." So dad takes one of the horses, walks it to the tractor and gently tilts the horse until its mouth touches the milk.

Encouraged by his father, young Joseph follows on with another horse. This time, doing it the right way.

- Sunday Independent,

December 24, 1995

Not alone was the similarly historic 1-2-3 in Found's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe 21 years away, future triple Champion Hurdler Istabraq had yet to come under his care. He had yet to train his first Group One winner.

He is now at a world record 329, Desert King having gotten him off the mark, while he also holds the best global mark for Group One winners in a season (28), has been champion Flat trainer in Ireland 22 times, including an unbroken run from 1999, and claimed the British title six times too. He has recorded 10 Breeders' Cup successes and left his mark all over the world.

Trainer Joseph O'Brien. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Trainer Joseph O'Brien. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

It's a lot to live up to, so you don't even try.

Trainer Joseph O'Brien. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Joseph O'Brien was only two when Walsh called down to The Hill and documented the gently-delivered lesson. Now he is the same age as Aidan was then, 26 and only three years into his training career, but further down the track in many ways than his father was.

Some might say he started with a stronger hand, but it should be remembered that Aidan took over the licence from his wife Annemarie, and was actually defending the crown she had annexed, making her own history as the first woman to be champion trainer.

This all took place at Carriganog, on Owning Hill, just outside Piltown, where Annemarie's father, Joe Crowley, had trained a Cheltenham Festival winner himself and produced many more champions over the years. It is where the grandson named after him is working his wonders now.

It isn't a given that you learn in such an environment but if you had any interest at all, osmosis alone will do its thing. And interest was never a problem.

* * * * *

As a jockey, Joseph O'Brien totted up 30 Group Ones, two Epsom Derbys and two Irish Derbys. He was still 17 when he bagged his first classic, the Irish 2000 Guineas with Roderic O'Connor. The Breeders' Cup Turf followed five months later with St Nicholas Abbey. By then he had turned 18, and the youngest winning rider in the history of the end-of-season jamboree was described memorably by former Stateside great Jerry Bailey as "like a lizard on a log".

He went on to be champion jockey twice before his height brought the curtain down on a career that had only been seven years in the making. Riding into the 40s is normal for Flat pilots, but stature ruled that out for O'Brien.

By then he was already working away with a string of horses on The Hill and prepared Ivanovich Gorbatov to win the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham. He did not have his licence yet, so it will go down in the annals as another Festival triumph for his dad.

He quickly made up for that though, landing a four-timer on his first day as an official trainer and currently with eight flat Group/Grade Ones and six Grade Ones over jumps. He has two Cheltenham successes, a Melbourne Cup and a Breeders' Cup.

The latter arrived via Iridessa in the Filly & Mare Turf last November, the only European triumph at Santa Anita providing him with a unique double - now also the youngest to train a Breeders' Cup victor. O'Brien also joined Freddy Head in the select grouping of those to taste success as both a jockey and handler.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien. Photo: Getty Images

It came in the same 24 hours he recorded a victory at Flemington in Melbourne, and another at Down Royal. He also had runners in France and Italy.

It was staggering, even by his father's standards. If it is reflective of the scale of Joseph's operation and the stupendous level of his achievement, in the very best traditions of Aidan he sees it as illustrative of his support network.

"It is incredibly special for me," he says. "Even to compete was a great feeling. Winning there was very special. I am just very lucky to have some fantastic support from great owners and great people. It says more about the team than anything else. The staff that we have are unbelievable. We all pull together. I am confident that very few people in the world have a team of people as strong as what we have."

Adding to the sweetness is that Iridessa was bred by his parents. The daughter of Ruler Of The World has now delivered four Group 1s, three alone this year. She is returning to training as a four-year-old for Chantal Regalado-Gonzalez and her husband John Murrell, a prospect that excites O'Brien.

Of course, right now, even though some of the next crop of Flat juveniles for next year are already in, the focus is on National Hunt and its sumptuous Christmas fare. O'Brien has one of the most electric young jumpers around in his care in novice chaser Fakir D'oudairies.

The JP McManus-owned four-year-old could pitch up alongside Laurina and Notebook in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown on St Stephen's Day, but it is a potential rematch with Samcro, who fell at the penultimate obstacle with the pair neck and neck in the Drinmore Chase, that really gets the juices flowing. Alternatively, he might take in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Novice Chase at Limerick the same day, Samcro, Faugheen, Battleoverdoyen, Laurina and Carefully Selected are also among the stellar entries. A decision won't be made until closer to declaration time but the Kapgarde bay is ready to roll.

"He has done nothing wrong. He has won his Grade One chase. There are plenty more horses that are going to take him on over the next few months. It is exciting to have a horse like him that can be a part of big races and big match-ups over the Christmas."

You wonder if he would have preferred Samcro to stand up at Fairyhouse, to learn more about his charge.

"You want to win first of all," he says. "It looked like it was going to be a great race. The general consensus was Samcro was going to win but it was still all to play for. We won't back down from taking on the horse again. And I am sure they will be in again together at some stage, whether it is at Christmas time or February and we will go from there.

Samcro and regular rider Shane McCann at Cullentra House stables

"(Fakir D'oudairies) wouldn't have been backing down. Samcro is a horse that travels really well but at the end of the day you have to jump them and that's it. We came out on top that time but last year Gordon (Elliott) just nabbed us with Delta Work over Le Richebourg in the same race.

"It is a fantastic sport, and it's a pity for the sport that the horse fell, but that is the name of the game and they will meet again. Until then, we will all dream about what might have happened and see what happens the next time."

O'Brien has always had a strong team of juvenile hurdlers and Cerberus and A Wave Of The Sea will resume rivalries n the Knight Frank Spring Juvenile Hurdle, also on December 26, after filling the first two places at Fairyhouse.

The aforementioned Le Richebourg is more likely to make his return from injury at Punchestown in the New Year, but another stable star will be back in the fold before that. Edwulf is the horse who famously came back from the dead to win the Unibet Irish Gold Cup in February 2018, 11 months after suffering a neurotic episode and temporarily losing his sight at Cheltenham chasing down future two-time Grand National hero Tiger Roll in the National Hunt Chase.

He is in pursuit of less lofty rivals and prizes now, but will be a significant attraction in the Bluegrass Hunters Chase at Down Royal, again on St Stephen's Day.

"He won a point-to-point with Enda Bolger earlier in the year, and has been with us a little while. This race has been the plan. He doesn't qualify for the Foxhunter in Cheltenham this year, so he will be sticking to Ireland. It is nice to have him back in the year. He's been great for us."

Looking further down the road, he is relishing the prospect of taking on younger brother Donnacha, who has joined the Flat training ranks as a 21-year-old reigning champion jockey, having had to yield to uncooperative genetics, as his brother had done before him.

"Looking forward to it. It will be exciting. He has a small number of nice types and he will be looking forward to getting started next year and going from there."

It is Aidan who continues to set the bar, of course, but the children were learning and listening.

And doing it right.

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