Declan Rix

After Latrobe landed Joseph O’Brien his first Classic in the Irish Derby, Declan Rix reflects on another huge day for the 25-year-old trainer.

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The young training career of Joseph O’Brien reached new heights at The Curragh on Saturday after Latrobe won the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby in what was an all family affair. The trainer’s brother Donnacha would steer the son of Camelot to a 14/1 victory, beating their father Aidan and the powerful Coolmore partnership in the process, who filled second and third place with Rostropovich and race favourite Saxon Warrior, respectively.

The success saw O’Brien train his first Classic winner and his third Group 1 on the flat. In his maiden season with a licence in 2016, Joseph won the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes with Intricately in what was another memorable day for the family. Again, Donnacha did the steering and again, it was their father Aidan who trained the runner-up (Hydrangea) and the third (Rhododendron).

Last season, the Owning Hill handler had the then biggest day of his rapidly evolving career when landing the Melbourne Cup with Rekindling, becoming the first three-year-old horse to do so since 1941. Like yesterday’s success, Lloyd J Williams was the owner, and now, in three seasons training, O’Brien has delivered one of Australian racing’s highest profile names a ‘Race that stops the Nation’ and an Irish Derby.

It’s fair to say Williams is a fan of young O’Brien, stating post-Melbourne Cup, “It’s an amazing achievement. You’re going to see a career kicked off here that’s going to include Breeders’ Cup and all sorts of things. He will be one of the leading trainers in the world — and I have thought that for 18 months or so. He has a pedigree better than Galileo; he is the next Aidan O’Brien. He will emulate his father, maybe more.

Latrobe wins the Derby for the O'Brien bothers
Joseph and Donnacha O'Brien embrace after winning the Irish Derby

Joseph’s early exploits in the National Hunt game shouldn’t be forgotten either, he very much runs a dual-purpose operation. While the success won’t go down on his own record, officially Aidan was the trainer, Joseph was the man behind Ivanovich Gorbatov’s 2016 Cheltenham Festival success in the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle. That was for leading jumps owner JP McManus, and the pair have bagged other big races together since, most notably the 2017 Galway Hurdle with Tigris River, the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle with Tower Bridge and the Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup with Edwulf.

What O’Brien has achieved in his short training career at the age of 25, so far, has simply been incredible. Like his father, he just seems at ease with training these animals. The cynics will point to a privileged upbringing, and it’s naïve to overlook, but Joseph and Donnacha – along with the Sarah and Ana – know of their good fortune and come across as down-to-earth, from the outside. Money can’t make one work hard however, but it can very much send you the other way.

It’s hard to say any of this family have taken poor steps, professionally, and don’t work hard. In a former guise, Joseph was a seriously underappreciated jockey – a two-time Derby winner in a short but highly successful career - who constantly fought nature to make weight, through wasting. Again, naysayers will suggest he was only riding because of who his father is, but in a business where stallions need to be produced by Coolmore via Ballydoyle, they can’t afford to suffer fools lightly.

On the days that mattered, Joseph delivered more often than not. In the end, nature caught up with him and forced a big man into retirement, but in that sphere, success was achieved through graft as much as fortune.  

Joseph’s first Derby success came aboard Camelot in 2012 as a 19-year-old. Poignantly, Latrobe is a son of Camelot and gave his sire a maiden Group 1 and Classic winner from his first crop. Indeed, Latrobe was following in his fathers’ footsteps in bagging the 12f Irish Classic and while Coolmore will be disappointed in Saxon Warrior being beaten, Latrobe’s win will be a major boost to the stallion career of Camelot, who stands for the Tipperary operation.

The career of Donnacha O'Brien, 19, is also on an upwardly curve this season and he deserves huge credit for his uncomplicated ride on the Irish Derby hero. In a race where many riders appeared afraid to put their mounts into the early heat of battle, Donnacha stole a march on the vast majority of the field and, in a race run at a sedate pace by top-level standards, he was best positioned to strike.

This victory means Donnacha has now bagged a 2000 Guineas, an Oaks and an Irish Derby so far through 2018 while also sitting second in the Irish Jockeys’ Title with a strike-rate of 25%.

It was a successful weekend for the O’Brien family. Aidan trained nine winners and his sons won the weekend’s big race. It all leads me to question, nature or nurture, which is most important? I don’t know the answer, but I do know the O’Brien children have both on their side which means the famous surname that they hold may well continue to habituate Ballydoyle for another generation.


Whenever foreign raiders come to Ireland for the Irish Derby, there always seems to be worries about “Ballydoyle tactics”. OK, Aidan O’Brien tends to dominate the race in terms of numbers and is a 12-time winner, but people tend to overplay this aspect and no finer example came yesterday with the Mark Johnston-trained Dee Ex Bee.

Pre-race, Johnston seemed pretty concerned about tactics, but I wasn’t sure why. Whatever way the race panned out, in theory, it should’ve suited his horse, especially from his useful draw in one. Should the field go hard, Silvestre De Sousa could sit prominently knowing his ride is a strong stayer. If they went slow, like they appeared to run yesterday, De Sousa could sit further forward, like so many Mark Johnston horses do and be in a better position than most to kick early.

What transpired however, was what looked a case over overthinking “Ballydoyle tactics” and it undoubtedly had major say in Dee Ex Bee running below market expectations. Sent off a nicely backed 100/30 shot, the strapping son of Farhh was slightly sluggish away before showing useful early speed to lead the race after a furlong.

In what would turn out to be a race run at a lacklustre gallop, Dee Ex Bee and Silvestre De Sousa were in the ideal position, but for some reason, the three-year-old was reined back to fourth behind the eventual one-two-three.

Matters got worst for the pair, when they eventually ended up three-wide in parts, sacrificing ground on a turning track. When the pace really started to lift from five and four-out, the pair looked in trouble in what appeared to be a relative test of speed.

Given the circumstances, it was no surprise to Dee Ex Bee outpaced before he ran on late again up the rail. It was all over by that stage however, and he’d eventually be beaten five lengths.

Post-race, there were some reports of Dee Ex Bee losing a shoe while Johnston felt the ground was maybe too firm, but the way he ran on late suggests it was more a case of the race not being run to suit. After a furlong though, they should’ve really been in a much better position than they were, after all, the Ballydoyle tactics employed gave them every chance of having the run of the race.

It’s a run that can be forgiven and his price of 10/1 for the St Leger looks an overreaction.

Declan Rix
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