Tom O’Brien once again proved himself an able deputy for Champion Jockey Richard Johnson, when winning the Stella Artois 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday.
Johnson landed a double at Haydock for Hobbs, and rode Coneygree to second place in the Betfair Chase. Whilst at Ascot, O’Brien rode a cracker from the front, to lift the valuable Grade 2 chase with Royal Regatta.
Sent off a 10/1 shot, the eight-year-old is not the easiest of rides over fences, as he has a habit of hitting the odd one. Though talented, he struggles to put himself right at an obstacle, and so needs the jockey to do his utmost to ensure the horse arrives on a good stride. O’Brien did this perfectly; shortening him up when necessary, and asking for the ‘big one’ when given the chance. He needed a good leap at the last, as the tank was beginning to run empty with the line approaching.
That O’Brien is such a talented rider is no surprise. He spent five years riding out for Uncle Aidan, before arriving as a stable lad for Hobbs in 2004. He took the Conditional Jockey Championship in 2006 with a record number of winners.
In 2009 he had his most memorable ride to date, landing the Coral Welsh National, when partnering the Hobbs trained Dream Alliance. It was his first victory back in the saddle, having broken a leg and spent five months on the sidelines. The horse had also returned from a career threatening injury at Aintree in 2008.
The eight-year-old was sent off a 20/1 shot, and was given a peach of a ride by O’Brien. Positioned prominently throughout the race, the jockey made his move four fences from home. Bar an error at the last, he could be called the winner from some way out. Silver By Nature came with a late charge, but was unable to reel in O’Brien and his willing partner.
The jockey has also shown his liking for the national fences at Aintree. His victory on Always Waining in the Topham Chase of 2012, was ironically at the expense of the Hobbs trained - Johnson ridden Chance Du Roy. He was then aboard the aforementioned Hobbs inmate, when winning the Becher Chase the following year.
Bearing in mind that Johnson rides the pick of the Hobbs yard, it’s to O’Brien’s credit that he already has 43 winners for the season, standing eighth in the championship table. A strike rate of 16% is not to be sniffed at, and the jockey followed his impressive victory at Ascot with a treble the following day at Uttoxeter. That successful day at the Staffordshire track included a win on 16/1 shot Tiquer, for the Somerset trainer Alan Jones.
With high profile meetings taking place on most weekends at this time of year, chances are that O’Brien will have plenty of opportunities to impress further. Though he must find it frustrating at times to be number two at the yard, he is at one of the finest. With Johnson boosted by the retirement of AP McCoy, there’s every chance that the spell as understudy will last for a good while longer.
Nevertheless, with the equine quality at their disposal, Philip Hobbs and his team are sure to have another profitable campaign. Tom is set to prove a major player in that continued success.