Irish Champions Weekend offers Joseph O’Brien chance of more big-race gains

It can easily be forgotten in all that Joseph O’Brien has achieved in racing that he is still a few years shy of his 30th birthday.

The 27-year-old had a brief but very successful career in the saddle, which saw him come within a length of winning the Triple Crown aboard Camelot, land six Irish Classics as well as four in England, and become the youngest jockey ever to ride a winner at the Breeders’ Cup.

When he eventually lost an ever-increasing battle with the scales, it was pretty obvious he would follow his father, the record-breaking Aidan, into the training ranks.

Few could have predicted quite the level of his astonishing start, though, as he has already won the Melbourne Cup, tasted success at the Breeders’ Cup and claimed the Irish Derby – he has even won the Irish Gold Cup over jumps.

But the one meeting now which dominates his thoughts is Irish Champions Weekend, and he is preparing his strongest team to date, which includes hot favourites for the Irish St Leger in Twilight Payment and the Moyglare Stud Stakes with Pretty Gorgeous.

“It’s one of the premier weekends of racing – I suppose in the world you could say,” said O’Brien.

“It attracts some of the best horses in the world – the best horse in the world at the moment in Ghaiyyath – and it’s something we all look forward to immensely.

“This meeting has such a spot on the world stage now, this is where you want to have winners. The best horses, the best jockeys – I mean the Champion Stakes this year is one of the best races anywhere in the world. Unfortunately I don’t have a runner in it this year – the aim is to make sure I’m in it in future.”

Joseph O'Brien (left) with brother Donnacha and father, Aidan (right)
Joseph O’Brien (left) with brother Donnacha and father, Aidan (right) (PA Wire)

As well as competing against his father on a daily basis, younger brother Donnacha is now making waves in the training ranks.

“We’re all extremely competitive in every race between ourselves, but obviously this weekend we all want to have winners. Dad has some good chances and so does Donnacha. It would be nice if we could all get on the scoresheet,” he said.

“We all get on, there’s a bit of winding up but not too much. We all try to do our best and wish each other luck.”

O'Brien enjoys the patronage of leading owner JP McManus over jumps
O’Brien enjoys the patronage of leading owner JP McManus over jumps (PA Wire)

Irish Champions Weekend begins at Leopardstown on Saturday – and O’Brien has every chance of kicking off with a winner through Earth Strike in the Ballylinch Stud Irish EBF Ingabelle Stakes.

“She’s a course and distance winner, this looks the logical next step,” said O’Brien.

The first Group One of the weekend is the Coolmore America “Justify” Matron Stakes, in which O’Brien fields an interesting runner in Wilds Dreams.

He said: “She came to us from Argentina, where she was unbeaten on turf. Obviously this is a big step up, she’d done most of her winning over shorter distances so we’re just hoping she runs a good race.”

The Owning Hill handler then has two solid chances in the KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes.

“Snapraeterea ran very well at the Curragh and going up to a mile shouldn’t be any issue for him, while Liffey River won his maiden very well last time. Both have earned their place in the race and we’re hoping they can run with credit,” he said.

Buckhurst and Patrick Sarsfield then go in the Paddy Power ‘Is It 2021 Yet?’ Stakes – formerly the Kilternan Stakes.

“Patrick Sarsfield’s winning run came to an end in Germany, but he ran a really good race so you’d have to be hopeful of another good run,” said O’Brien.

“You could say Buckhurst’s best runs have been at 10 furlongs, but he has run over this trip (12 furlongs) before so we’re hoping for a good run.”

Sunday at the Curragh could be special for O’Brien, with solid chances in all the big races, among them Thundering Nights in the Moyglare “Jewels” Blandford Stakes.

He said: “She won at the Curragh beating Albigna and won very well. She’s a filly who has just improved and improved all season. We’re really looking forward to running her.”

O’Brien is excited about Pretty Gorgeous in the Moyglare Stud Stakes and following her impressive win in the Debutante Stakes she is a warm favourite.

“I’m looking forward to running her, she’s a very exciting filly. She couldn’t have been any more impressive last time in very heavy going and I’m really looking forward to the weekend for her,” he said.

Thunder Moon in the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes is another live chance, having bolted up on his only outing.

“He won well on his debut, Jim Bolger’s horse has (New Treasure) was behind him and came out and won a Group Three. Obviously it’s a big step up in class from a maiden straight into a Group One, but we didn’t have many other options,” said O’Brien.

Then Twilight Payment, an ex-Bolger inmate, bids to give O’Brien another Classic in the Irish St Leger.

O’Brien said: “He’s seven, but he ran a career-best last time on figures. He’ll probably need to do so again, but if he does it puts him right in the mix. We’re excited about running him and we’re hopeful of a good performance. It should be nice ground, but he handles most types anyway.”

Whatever happens this weekend, you get the feeling O’Brien will be a dominant force at the meeting for decades to come.

Joseph O’Brien is a columnist for Betfair and his views can be read at:

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