- Breaking News
- Today's Paper
- Text Only
- Family Notices
Saturday, July 21, 2012
When it became clear, in the early part of the season, that Joseph O’Brien was essentially first jockey at Ballydoyle it looked to be an extraordinary decision.
One had to be forgiven for thinking that this smacked of nepotism in its worst form, and there was every chance it would end in tears.
After all here was a 19-year-old rookie, woefully short on experience, who wasn’t just being asked to challenge the likes of Pat Smullen, Johnny Murtagh and Kevin Manning on the domestic scene, but was now expected to prove a match for the very best international riders as well.
But the youngster has risen magnificently to the challenge and it is quite remarkable how many of us, very much including this observer, he has won over in a relatively short space of time.
Camelot winning the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and then the Epsom Derby and the Irish Derby gave O’Brien a dream start, but it has become crystal clear of late that this lad is a long way removed from being a one-trick pony.
Personally, I thought he absolutely came of age last weekend, starting with the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp on Saturday night.
He guided Imperial Monarch to success in the Grade 1, giving him a powerful front-running drive.
Imperial Monarch didn’t look the easiest of rides — perhaps he’s still green — but O’Brien took no prisoners in the closing stages and the combination was still in front where it matters.
The son of Galileo did weave about a little in the closing stages, but rightfully survived a stewards’ inquiry.
Then at Fairyhouse on Sunday, O’Brien was simply on fire, starting with Parliament Square in a two-year-old maiden.
He also landed a handicap in smooth fashion on Chicago, but it was his performance aboard Warwick Avenue which was the most notable.
This was a four-horse conditions race in which Warwick Avenue was taking on the impressive Curragh winner, Blue Corner, and Amira’s Prince, who was rated 13lbs superior to him.
O’Brien soon had Warwick Avenue strolling along in front and set a pace which he clearly felt suited him best and was allowed to do so by his opponents.
It was a classic case of taking a race you really had no right to win and represented jockeyship of the highest order.
O’Brien comes across as a quiet young man out of the saddle, but on top of a horse he’s dynamic.
On what we have seen of him so far this campaign he is cool, confident, tactically astute and can do it from behind, in front or mid-division.
But on top of that, and most importantly of all, as far as punters are concerned, he is powerful in a finish.
He rides with savage determination when the need is greatest and you could see at Killarney this week that the public are clearly beginning to warm to him.
A punting pal of mine refuses to be converted and is not a believer.
I was a bit like that, but you can only go on what your own two eyes reveal.
Will he be champion jockey this season? Well, there is every reason to think that the answer is yes.
This week, for instance, his father, Aidan, sent some useful sorts to Killarney, which was most eye-catching.
And it will be fascinating to see how Ballydoyle approaches the forthcoming Galway festival.
MY eyes nearly popped out of the old head when early morning-prices became available for Dundalk last Monday.
George Vancouver, in a maiden, was the focus of attention and couldn’t credit it that some firms were offering him as high as 11-2.
George Vancouver had got bogged down in heavy ground on his previous two runs, but the manner in which he was backed at the Curragh previously told us that Ballydoyle insiders knew that this was at least a half-decent juvenile.
The way the weather has been in Ireland trying to find some good ground for a horse requiring such a surface has been more than difficult.
Accordingly, the obvious thing to do was to send George Vancouver to Dundalk, where the surface was guaranteed.
But those who price races in the morning seemed totally oblivious to this possibility and the offers between 11-2 and 4-1 were generous in the extreme.
George Vancouver, of course, hardly broke sweat to score by three and a quarter lengths, returned at a far more realistic 11-8.
© Irish Examiner Ltd, City Quarter, Lapps Quay, Cork. Registered in Ireland: 523712.