Sport Horse Racing

Saturday 16 December 2017

Talented O'Brien stands tall in elite club

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

There is something cruelly ironic about the fact that the most polished Flat jockey to emerge through the ranks in this country for some time stands over six feet tall.

At 18, Joseph O'Brien's best days in the saddle ought to be ahead of him, but he seems destined for an abbreviated career on the level. His stunning triumph on St Nicholas Abbey in the Breeders' Cup Turf on Saturday, a fourth top-level victory this term, was just another example of his array of talents.

For the past two years, O'Brien -- who this season broke the record number of domestic winners for an apprentice with a haul of 57 that left him third behind Johnny Murtagh and Pat Smullen in the riders' championship -- has impressed in almost every facet of his profession. While claiming, his size caused him to do overweight on horses far too frequently, but otherwise he has been flawless, with his precision from the front and cool temperament two of his most obvious attributes.

Needless to say, the environment he grew up in ensured that his potential would be maximised, but his sheer 'natural ability' -- as his father Aidan might say of one of Ballydoyle's equine bluebloods -- is there for all to see. As I've often mentioned in relation to the jumps discipline, new entrants to the top echelon of the riding fraternity in these parts are as rare as hens' teeth.

It's no different on the Flat, yet O'Brien clearly has what is required to make the breakthrough, and it is something far more innate than his father's firepower. Pity, then, that he will probably be denied that opportunity, though the Flat's loss could be jumping's gain -- as he has hinted that he may take that route.

Of course, his father's double at Churchill Downs was no less meritable. With five Group Ones in the States this year before the Breeders' got under way, it was clear that he had begun to master the art of targeting the right horses at the right races in a country where he had previously struggled to do so.

On Saturday, Wrote and 'St Nick' provided him with his 19th and 20th Group One successes of the year, a figure that he has bettered only twice before. Neither the Juvenile Turf, which Wrote annexed with authority under Ryan Moore, nor the Turf, a race that O'Brien has now won three times after St Nicholas Abbey's return to form, were especially hot renewals, but his capacity to identify and exploit such opportunities has defined his year. All in all, O'Brien could hardly have hoped for a better end to the campaign.

Quito denies Europe

Quito De La Roque benefited from a vintage Davy Russell drive to overhaul Sizing Europe at Down Royal on Saturday. The 11/4 favourite came under pressure four out, and never looked likely to win until after landing over the last. At that point, with the RSA winner Bostons Angel having exited at the fifth last, Sizing Europe still appeared to be in control, but having to make much of his own running in such testing ground ultimately took its toll. Quito De La Roque was scoring for a second successive time in Grade One company and a fifth on the spin in all. Trainer Colm Murphy revealed that he had met with a setback recently, and should improve a lot before his next appointment in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown.

Fehily out of luck again

So often cursed by injury, Noel Fehily was again left to rue a missed opportunity when fog prevented him from flying in to take two rides for Paul Nicholls at Down Royal. Typically, the incident cost him, with Paul Carberry taking the mount on the impressive Kauto Stone in the Chase. A half-brother to Kauto Star, the French import provided Nicholls, who had seven winners across three meetings on the day, with his 2,000th career success.

Ride of the weekend

No need to look any further than Davy Russell's never-say-die turn on Quito De La Roque. Five winners in three days left him 16 clear in the jockeys' table, and none were more hard-earned than Saturday's big race.

Training performance

Aidan O'Brien's rejuvenation of St Nicholas Abbey. A brilliant juvenile, the Turf hero briefly looked as though he might recapture his old form when taking the Coronation Cup in June. However, it wasn't until Saturday that he finally did, scoring readily with a stunning turn of foot.

Number of the weekend

4-- Johnny Murtagh's winning margin over Pat Smullen in the Flat jockeys' championship, a double at Leopardstown yesterday securing him his fifth title.

Tweet of the weekend

"If the whip rules don't change soon I might have to change my Twitter name to NHJockey! Available as from tmoro, min weight 12st!" -- After Tony McCoy yesterday became the latest in a long line of riders to fall victim to the new whip rules over the weekend, trainer Chris Bealby foresees a gap emerging in the market.

Irish Independent

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