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Joseph O'Brien sets out to repeat Cup glory

7 min read
Joseph O’Brien managed to crack one of the toughest challenges in world racing at the very first attempt when Rekindling (GB) (High Chaparral {Ire}) stormed past his father Aidan’s Johannes Vermeer (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) in last year’s G1 Melbourne Cup S.

It could be argued that Joseph O'Brien will return with a runner with similar credentials to his Melbourne Cup winner Rekindling with Latrobe (Ire) (Camelot {GB}), but there is anything but complacency from the young trainer.

O’Brien has formed a mutually profitable partnership with high-profile Australian owner Lloyd Williams and his son Nick and will need their eyes on the ground at the Werribee quarantine centre as this year’s G1 Irish Derby S. winner continues his preparations.

“We speak often to Lloyd and Nick. Both of them have a great knowledge of horse racing and it’s great to have people like them, who’ve been in the game so long and experienced everything, to fall back on for any questions and advice that I need,” he explained.

“When Rekindling was down there I wasn’t there with him, so Lloyd and Nick saw him more than I did. I was on the phone to them every day asking if they were happy with him.”

Joseph O'Brien and Lloyd Williams

Last year's winner

Last year’s hero, who has not appeared on the track since, had started his career with David Wachman and took both the G3 Ballysax S. and G2 Curragh Cup S. when moved to O’Brien’s care. His final run before transfer to Australia was a fourth-placed finish in the G1 St Leger S. at Doncaster.

“Basically how the relationship started was that I rode Order Of St George for him and then when I started training he very kindly said he’d like to have a horse with me,” O’Brien explained. “We bought a yearling at Tattersalls, Arcada (Ire) (Rip Van Winkle {Ire}) was his name. He was OK as a 2-year-old, and he was sold to Hong Kong at the end of that year.

“I suppose Latrobe’s a different type of horse to Rekindling, hopefully again he gets to the race in one piece. You need a bit of luck and a good draw, and we’ll see what happens.” - Joseph O'Brien

“When he was sold, David Wachman retired at a similar time and Lloyd very kindly replaced him with Rekindling. That was the start of it and we’ve been very lucky together.

“I guess he’d had a busy season and he was a small, light horse. Really we didn’t have to work him too hard and the main priority was just to get him to the race safely. Mark Power and MJ Doran were the two guys who were down there with him for me and they just kept him safe and in his routine working.

“We’ll have to try to keep it as simple and stick to his routine as best as we can. I suppose Latrobe’s a different type of horse to Rekindling, hopefully again he gets to the race in one piece. You need a bit of luck and a good draw, and we’ll see what happens.”

This year's challenger

This year’s challenger had only lost his maiden tag at the fourth attempt before his rapid promotion to Classic company. He was not disgraced behind Roaring Lion (USA) (Kitten’s Joy {USA}) in the G1 International S. and went on to follow Aidan O’Brien’s Flag Of Honour (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) home in the G1 Irish St Leger S.

Asked to point out those differences between the pair, O’Brien explained: “Latrobe wouldn’t have nearly the experience Rekindling had, and I guess he’s probably not proven over the distance. I know he’s gone a mile and six but Rekindling was kind of a real stout horse and he was guaranteed to get the distance; this guy isn’t I suppose. Latrobe is bigger, heavier.

“Lloyd and Nick have talked about it with me that it makes sense to have a local jockey and it worked last year, there’s no reason to change now." - Joseph O'Brien

“He ran very well in the Irish Leger but it was a very slowly run race and it kind of turned into a sprint up the straight so it wasn’t really a true test. I think a question mark probably remains over his stamina.”

With Rekindling’s Cup pilot Corey Brown hitching his wagon to Magic Circle (Ire) (Makfi {GB}), the camp have opted for G1 Golden Slipper-winning Brenton Avdulla instead.

“Lloyd and Nick have talked about with me that it makes sense to have a local jockey and it worked last year,” O’Brien said. “There’s no reason to change now.

“He’s a good rider, plenty of experience, he’s ridden an awful lot of winners. We’re delighted to have him.”

A long career ahead

Still only 25, and not much less wiry than when he was in the saddle, O’Brien has fitted in an extraordinary amount into his two careers including champion jockey titles and major successes as a trainer in the National Hunt world. He is also in the unique position of having ridden some of the stallions who are now providing him with runners, having almost completed the first British Triple Crown since 1970 aboard Camelot.

“I suppose I had a good relationship with Camelot himself and I’ve been lucky with some of them, like this guy,” he said. "But whatever your bias, you have to treat each horse as an individual, too.

“He’s had a Derby winner in his first crop, he’s had stakes winners, a couple of Group 1 winners. I’ll be getting my hands on as many of them as I can, anyway. He’s an exciting sire going forwards.”

Camelot is now standing at Coolmore

Williams is involved in a few other horses at O’Brien’s impressive stable in County Kilkenny and Rekindling’s performance evidently prompted OTI Racing to invest in another Camelot in Downdraft (Ire). A cosmopolitan list of owners also includes Kentucky-based Calumet Farm, the China Horse Club, Qatar Racing and even the New Zealand-born Ireland national rugby coach Joe Schmidt.

“I’ve been lucky to be supported by a lot of great owners in Australia, America, all over Europe, and long may it last.” - Joseph O'Brien

“We’re always open to new clients and for more horses,” he said. “I suppose we just kind of concentrate on doing the best with the horses that we have and then any clients who come to us with horses is brilliant. We’ll try to get them to win races.

“I’ve been lucky to be supported by a lot of great owners in Australia, America, all over Europe, and long may it last.”

Taking nothing for granted

O’Brien was investing in new stock at Tattersalls last week and seems to be thriving on what appears to be a hectic life, with even the addition of a cloth cap failing to soften what continue to be remarkably youthful features.

As important as Latrobe’s Australian mission is, it is only part of a big business.

“I was only there for three days last year,” he recalled. “It’s a long way away and we have National Hunt horses on the go so I can’t be away for too long. The lads are well capable of looking after him and I’ll get all the information and videos etc. But I’ll definitely go down for the race. I might be there a little bit longer this year, but I haven’t even booked the flight yet!”

“It’s a huge race. The name that it’s ‘the race that stops a nation’ is not an exaggeration but I guess it was kind of a privilege to be involved in the race and have a runner." - Joseph O'Brien

Much like his eternally modest father, O’Brien also maintains that he will take nothing for granted at Flemington next month.

“It was a dream really. I could never expect to win a Melbourne Cup no matter what kind of horse you have. We tried to enjoy it as best we could and now we’ve got to try to do it again. It won’t be easy

“It’s a huge race. The name that it’s ‘the race that stops a nation’ is not an exaggeration but I guess it was kind of a privilege to be involved in the race and have a runner. We went down to learn as much as we could and enjoy the experience. For the horse to win was something else. We’re looking forward to coming back.”

Joseph O'Brien with the 2017 Melbourne Cup