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Joseph O'Brien feature

In Classics week at Epsom, it's a prime opportunity to post something more than just race previews. From Irish correspondent, Tony McCormick, @TonyMacRacing, a feature piece on Joseph O'Brien, rider of favourites in both the Derby and the Oaks. This was written earlier in the week.


The Long And Short Of It Now, Joseph Is Just Too Tall

‘’Rubbish, that kid. Rubbish!’’ ‘’He only gets the rides, coz of his father!’’

Just two of the priceless musings of standing jockeys, I have had the pleasure of hearing in bookies around the area.

Let’s take the first statement - ‘’Rubbish, that kid. Rubbish!’’

By the end of May 2014 Joseph O’Brien had amassed a staggering £9,323,038.42 in career winnings, 4.8m in Ireland and 4.4m in Britain, add to that his placed prize money, you get a total figure round the value of £12.3 million.

Now to - ‘’He only gets the rides, coz of his father!’’

If young O’Brien simply wasn’t good enough, Messrs’ Magnier, Tabor and Smith would have taken the decision to inform O’Brien snr to find a new Ballydoyle jockey. These three astute businessmen were thought worthy of taking on by Manchester United legend Sir Alex Ferguson – Big mistake!

Coolmore, the breeding side of the operation is valued at £4 Billion, so having your trainers son, taking the reins on valued horse flesh, just for the hell of it, is a serious misconception.

He is the youngest winning jockey in the history of the Breeders' Cup and, at 18, had already won Classic races on both sides of the Irish Sea. But for his size, O'Brien would surely have been set for a golden career in the saddle. At six foot and weighing nine stone, he dwarfed those around him in the winner's enclosure at Naas last Monday (2nd June), after a double for his father.

He knows he faces a difficult battle with the scales and said in 2012: 'I am tall and not going to get any lighter. I'll be riding on the Flat as long as possible but I'm not going to kill myself to keep doing the weight.'

Dad Aiden has said: 'From before Joseph could walk he has been involved in this. He has never known anything different.'

The oldest of four children, Joseph has been riding at Ballydoyle for years and won a bronze medal at the European pony championships in 2009. He rode his first winner in May 2009, four days after his 16th birthday. He became joint champion apprentice in Ireland in his second season and is one of the favourites to be champion jockey in Ireland this year – for the third time.

'I'm always trying to improve and I'm not too bad with nerves,' he said.

He does not drink or smoke and controls his weight with regular exercise. Joseph was only 17 when he rode his first Classic winner, Roderic O'Connor, in 2011 Irish 2000 Guineas and has over 20 Group 1 victories across the globe. During his time as Ballydoyle’s trainer, O’Brien has employed Christy Roche, Mick Kinane, Jamie Spencer, Kieren Fallon, and Johnny Murtagh. Apart from Roche, in the very early days, they were never regulars in riding out each morning. From time to time, their presence was requested, but generally they were not part of the day-to-day regime.

With Joseph, it is completely different. He is there 24/7, and from first-hand reports, his detailed knowledge of every horse is called upon by his father. “It is a help, living and working with them [the horses] every day,” Joseph said.

“We don’t talk about the horses all day, every day, but it would be right to say we have discussed, say, Camelot, over and over. There have also been discussions with Mr and Mrs Magnier, Mr and Mrs Tabor, and Mr and Mrs Smith, and Paul Smith.”

O'Brien will soon have more competition for rides from within his own family. Joseph's sisters, Sarah and Anna, have already had a taste of racecourse action and his younger brother, Donnacha, will receive his riding licence in the near future.

Ireland's reigning champion jockey added: "Donnacha is well able to ride and I might have to give up when he starts as he's a better rider than I am.

"He's been riding work as long as I have. He gives me plenty of stick and he'll get plenty when he starts riding."

For me, when evaluating a race, the Joseph O’Brien factor is now near the top of my study.

Joseph is a brilliant horseman, a gentleman in the paddock, a gracious and well-mannered young man when interviewed and a son any father would be forever proud.

But – here we go – he is simply, now, too tall, to be perfectly balanced at over 6ft.

By perfectly balanced, I mean, perfectly balanced in the hustle and bustle of Britain’s biggest and richest flat race, around the country’s most unique and undulating course, where mistakes are unforgiving.

I have to counter my admiration for any Ballydoyle runner, with the view that, at Epsom, when the heat is on, in a race where winning connections receive over £750,000, that somewhere at some time in the race, young Joseph is likely to get unbalanced. At Tattenham Corner, perhaps, or when it is time to catch one of the stables ‘pacemakers’. These factors, tied with the strength, determination and better balance of the likes of Ryan Moore, William Buick, Pat Smullen and three times Derby winning jockey Kieran Fallon, won’t have me rushing to back the one-time odds-on jolly.

From a trends perspective, the last eight winners have had an SP no bigger than 7/1, all came from the first three in the betting and finished in the first two last time out.

Seven of the last eight winners had an official rating of 108 or more, had run in a Group 1 or 2, contest last time out and were running within 30 days of their last outing. Those figures bring the well fancied Australia in to play along with, stablemates’, Geoffrey Chaucer and Orchestra, while Racing Post Trophy winner Kingston Hill and Arod also make the shortlist.

The profiles of past Derby winners are vital to the outcome of the race, given the undulating and unique track. Geoffrey Chaucer has the best profile, similar to 2010 victor, Workforce, with Arod and Orchestra next best.

Another angle to look at is a runner’s performance when running left handed. Of the last 16 winners to have a previous run on a left handed track, 12 had a 100% record, while two had a 75% strike rate with the remaining two winners clocking 50%. This angle bodes well for Australia, Kingston Hill and Western Hymn.

At the time of writing Australia was odds-on in some places (10/11) so there is plenty of value to be found from the rest of the runners I have shortlisted.

I will be interested to see the draw near to race day as seven of the last eight winners were drawn between three and 10. The final subject of interest come Saturday, for my betting direction, is which Ballydoyle runner, jockey Ryan Moore gets the leg up on.

Tony McCormick is Owner of G1 Racing Trends and Editor-In-Chief of Horse Racing Ireland


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