Sunday 21 January 2018

Joseph O'Brien teams up with writer to script plan for the future

Joseph O’Brien has got in on the act by teaming up with Kevin Blake, a freelance journalist and breeder who works with the At The Races racing channel. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Joseph O’Brien has got in on the act by teaming up with Kevin Blake, a freelance journalist and breeder who works with the At The Races racing channel. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

Trainers have plenty on their plate when it comes to keeping owners abreast of plans and injury updates, getting horses into peak condition and ultimately preparing them to be in optimum shape to win races.

As the saying goes, however, one must keep himself in the best of company and his horses the worst.

How the especially busy and successful men and women of the training ranks manage all of these tasks, in addition to the myriad of others - such as talking to the media and dealing with staff - is quite remarkable at times.

Phenomenal

Gordon Elliott comes to mind. A self-made man, his success has been nothing short of phenomenal, but time and time over he references the staff he has, in particular his henchmen - and his willingness to delegate responsibility has been key.

As such, for some time now, he has deployed a race planner. Ryan McElligott, who was Wayne Lordan's agent and whose knowledge of the fixture programme has earned him huge respect, will basically guide Elliott on specific targets for horses, trying to find the most practical opportunity to maximise results.

There are many trainers out there whose intuition when it comes to the thoroughbred is better than many higher-profile rivals, yet their ineptitude when it comes to race grades, knowledge of opposition and timing lets them down badly.

Willie Mullins' genius has helped him to keep Elliott at bay - though last year's memorable trainers' title battle showed how narrow the gap is becoming.

Mullins has long seemed a master at race planning, yet it helps to have amenable owners and often having the equivalent of a half-dozen adept corner-forwards ready to fight for two positions.

Now Joseph O'Brien has got in on the act by teaming up with Kevin Blake, a freelance journalist and breeder who works with the At The Races racing channel.

"I have been assisting Joseph with regard to planning the right races for his horses," said Blake.

"What makes it such an interesting challenge is that he is a proper dual-purpose trainer and there is a lot of scope to switch codes and disciplines with his horses in search of the best winning opportunities.

"I have also been doing pre-race tactical analysis, pedigree research for the sales and sourcing tried horses to buy into the yard - so there is a nice bit of variety to it."

Hovered

O'Brien has hovered around the top five in the Flat trainers' table this season, leading Dermot Weld for much of it.

He has a 14pc strike-rate at Dundalk; he has won the Galway Hurdle - the richest hurdle race in Europe; and he is third, miles clear of fourth and not far off Elliott, in the Jumps table.

Having JP McManus' patronage means he had a head-start, as well as the use of the magnificent gallops that grandfather Joe Crowley and father Aidan tinkered with over the years.

Now, in adding Blake to the roster, he is looking for another slight edge, and it will be interesting to see how it works out for what is surely a future champion trainer, still aged just 24.

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