Tuesday 12 December 2017

O'Brien in exalted company as he lands 'Young' double

Joseph O'Brien's sensational 2012 championship-winning campaign earned him the distinction of being voted the Irish Independent's Young Sportstar of the Year for the second time in succession, a feat that only Katie Taylor has achieved before.

That the talented 19-year-old jockey should find himself in such exalted company is richly deserved. Indeed, it is mind-boggling to think what he might yet achieve if he continues to progress at the meteoric rate that he has done up to now.

A little more than two years ago, 39 winners helped O'Brien claim a share of the apprentices' title in a three-way tie. In 2011, he set a new record for the young riders' division with an extraordinary haul of 57, bagged a first Group One success courtesy of an awe-inspiring front-running steer on his father Aidan's Roderic O'Connor in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and signed off with no less than five top-level triumphs to his name.

Once 2012 rolled around, the modest teenager was the de facto No 1 rider at the world-renowned Ballydoyle training establishment in Rosegreen, Co Tipperary. A coveted position previously held by a select elite that includes Lester Piggott (during Vincent O'Brien's tenure), Mick Kinane, Kieren Fallon and Johnny Murtagh, the youngster proved himself worthy of such a lofty appointment from the get-go.

On the first Saturday in May, he produced Camelot with daring accuracy to pinch the 2,000 Guineas by a neck.

It was a scarcely believable piece of refined horsemanship, one that reaffirmed his exquisite big-race cool on the grandest of stages and likewise advertised his precocious mount's arrival as a colt of heavyweight proportions.

Together, the duo would go on to complete a rare 2,000 Guineas- Derby double, as the prodigious rider once again displayed all his innate calm to deliver amid massive expectation on the odds-on shot at Epsom.

They added a third Classic with a routine Irish Derby victory at the Curragh and, while a historic Triple Crown bid came up agonisingly short, O'Brien's momentum never took a backward step.

A total of 10 Group Ones saw him double his 2011 tally, as he graduated from the apprentice ranks to scale the overall jockeys' championship in seamless style.

A final count of 87 saw the young man edge out six-time holder Pat Smullen by three votes – a fitting coronation at the end of a year in which O'Brien came of age in such splendid fashion.

The first to add the senior crown to the apprentice equivalent in successive years since Jimmy 'Corky' Mullane achieved the feat in 1951, he was also the youngest rider to claim the title since Mullane, who was 16 when he won the first of his back-to-back senior titles.

While the near six-foot-tall O'Brien faces a daily battle with the scales, his self-discipline, ambition and superb natural ability give him more than a fighting chance of emulating Mullane once more by retaining his crown in the season ahead.

"It's a privilege to win this award again, but I am just very lucky to be able to ride such good horses," he said with characteristic reticence at Saturday's ceremony in the Westbury Hotel.

"My job is the easy part. You can always dream about winning races like the Epsom Derby, but you never really think it will actually happen. Last year it did, so it was a very special season for everyone in Ballydoyle."

Richard Forristal

Irish Independent

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