The Cheltenham festival is over and for Joseph O’Brien this period of the year is a chance to ponder the excitment of a year of flying two-year-olds and Classic winning three-year-olds.
A history making win on St Nicholas Abbey at the Breeder’s Cup last November bookended a fantastic season which also saw him break his Group 1 duck on Roderic O’Connor in the Irish 2000 Guineas and partner two champion two year olds in Maybe and Camelot.
It seems remarkable to think that it is only three years ago that Joseph had his first ride in public when he partnered his father Aidan’s horse Coat of Arms at the Curragh back in May 2009.
Since then his star has rose at an impressive speed. A first Group race was captured within a year when he guided Beethoven to victory in the Desmond Stakes at Leopardstown. He built on that initial success and the victories continued to flow so much that he tied with Gary Carroll and Ben Curtis for the Champion Apprentice title.
A naturally tall person, O’Brien’s style is easy to pick out in a race. Perched high in the saddle he has a relaxed nature to his riding which can be seen in the way horses relax so easy for him. One race for this writer stands out in particular.
Joseph partnered a filly at the Curragh called Was on Phoenix Stakes day. The daughter of Galileo was making her racecourse debut and O’Brien guided the filly through the race, leading from the front in the manner that belied his years.
Now Was was probably miles better than the rest of the field that day but the manner in which her jockey took her through the race undoubtedly helped her.
Looking back on the season gone did he think that 2011 could have gone as well as it did? “At the start of the season I was just concentrating on doing as well as I could. It was a fantastic season without a doubt.”
And the highlight? “I suppose it would have to be St Nichols Abbey in America. It was just an unbelievable day.”
The off season also allows Joseph to keep his weight, which has been the source of debate for a while now, under control. “I keep busy. I ride out every morning at home, along with eating right going for walks and runs so there is plenty to keep me going.”
Along with all those walks and runs is the prospect of riding the cream of Ballydoyle’s best this coming season, including the current ante post favourite for the Derby and just about every other classic under the sun, Camelot.
The son of Montjeu left people rubbing their eyes in disbelief when he sauntered away with the Racing Post Trophy last backend at Doncaster. So how is the hot favourite for the Derby doing. “Camelot is fine. He is coming along nicely and has wintered well.”, says O’Brien.
That performance in the Racing Post Trophy marked Camelot as a special horse but just what exactly makes him so good? “He has everything”, O’Brien explains. “He has a lot of speed and a huge amount of class and when you combine those two things you get a something special. He is a really exciting horse.”
Another ‘exciting horse’ that O’Brien rode to success last season was Maybe. The daughter of Galileo was five from five last year including a smooth success in the Moyglare Stakes at the Curragh in August.
“Maybe is coming along well. She did everything right last season. She is big, strong and hardy filly and hopefully she will have another good season this year”.
Aside from Camelot and Maybe O’Brien is looking forward to seeing the likes of So You Think ‘doing well’ and of course the horse that will be linked to him forever, St Nicholas Abbey back on a racecourse.
While we have to wait to see them all back in action Joseph has been keeping a watchful eye on the jumps action and with Cheltenham coming on the horizon which horse has impressed the young jockey thus far this season? “Sizing Europe was hugely impressive at Punchestown. You couldn’t help but be impressed with his performance”.
The same could be said of Joseph O’Brien.