When Rekindling won the 2017 Melbourne Cup his trainer Joseph O’Brien became the youngest winning trainer in Cup history. He was twenty-four years old at the time and was winning the Cup at his first attempt. Fast forward to 2020 and the young man is now a two-time Cup winner after Twilight Payment’s tough end to end victory in the big race at Flemington on Tuesday.
O’Brien, who only started training in 2016 after a successful career in the saddle, has a right royal pedigree in racing terms. He, quite literally, followed the footsteps of his illustrious father Aidan O’Brien … around the stables, at the races … from such a young age, watching, listening, learning and ultimately harnessing all of that information with a the same kind of intense focus to detail that Aidan has always displayed.
With that match of pedigree and commitment in place, Joseph’s growth was always going to bear fruit.
That he did have a privileged beginning, as some are quick to point out, is a fact. His classroom was one of the best racing has to offer. The quality of horses paraded before him exposed him to what class in a racehorse really is and the contacts he made at an early age are still proving invaluable … but a kick-start is never any guarantee of success. If anything, it brings even more pressure to bear than would normally be the case for anyone starting out.
It is hard work that is an intrinsic factor in any successful formula … and to say that O’Brien has done the hard yards is an understatement.
As a jockey O’Brien rode 30 Group 1 winners. Some took convincing that he wasn’t getting those results for any reason other than that he was riding for his father. Others never fully acknowledged his prowess in the saddle conveniently forgetting just how well he rode those horses under the mammoth pressure of expectation.
The Ballydoyle setup and the Coolmore operation is all about winning. Their setup allows very little room for jockey error and they wouldn’t risk having a rider who was not up to the task of coping with some high-pressure situations … both riding ability-wise and in terms of the required mental toughness. O’Brien had both in spades.
You just don’t win an Epsom Derby (twice), a St Leger, an Ascot Gold Cup, a Coronation Cup, a Prince Of Wales Stakes, a Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a English 2000 Guineas, a Irish 2000 Guineas (three times), an Irish St Leger, a Dubai Sheema Classic and a Breeders’ Cup Turf – to name a few, if you are not a jockey performing at the highest level.
Interestingly enough, O’Brien had a previous connection to Australia prior to his Melbourne Cup successes.
He rode the 2009 and 2010 Cox Plate winner So You Think in England when it was transferred to the O’Brien stable, picking up wins in the Tattersalls Gold Cup and the Prince Of Wales Stakes.
He also rode a horse called Australia to an Epsom Derby / Irish Derby double in 2014 after achieving exactly the same result with Camelot, now an influential sire of some top horses competing in Australia, two years earlier.
O’Brien has brought the same discipline to training as he did to his riding career.
The fact that he beat horses trained by his famous father in both of his Melbourne Cup wins, giving the family the Melbourne Cup quinella on both of those occasions, underlines just how well O’Brien has taken to training.
As many will tell you, making that transition is a move fraught with challenges and pitfalls … but O’Brien has never shirked the task. Again, he has had a leg-up at the start of his new career and again he is thriving due to the effort he puts in when he could just so easily have fallen off the other side.
So, let’s give credit where credit is due.
This could be a dynasty building on a dynasty.
Aidan O’Brien is by no means finished himself yet and his three hundred plus Group 1 winners, which he is sure to add to, will take some catching over a very long period of time.
Whatever happens next though, Joseph O’Brien exploits since taking out his trainer’s licence have shown that the long-term future of the O’Brien family racing name is in very good hands.