There seems little doubt that some stage in the near future the Irish National Hunt trainers’ championship will be a three-cornered battle, with Joseph O’Brien throwing down the gauntlet to the current big two, Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott.
It can be difficult following in the footsteps of famous and talented fathers, but the 25-year-old has made it look easy.
There is no more famous or talented man in the game right now than Joseph’s father, Aidan, who has been an inspiration and an extraordinary mentor to the oldest of his four children. We know a famous dad can sometimes be more of a burden than a help, but that is clearly not the situation in this case.
You’d imagine Joseph has learned most of what he knows from shadowing the maestro and it shows.
Whether it’s training a horse to win over five furlongs at Dundalk, or a three-mile chase in the depths of winter, it all seems to come the same to the young man.
What set me thinking in this manner was the impressive success of Joseph’s Le Richebourg in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Wednesday.
Since being launched over fences he has been brought along steadily, improving from race to race in a way typical of what his father would do.
The rising six-year-old was a useful hurdler and is rated a 140 at that game. That’s a decent enough mark, but a long way removed from being anywhere near top class.
A measure of just how good he actually was over flights is that Le Richebourg could only finish fifth behind Sharjah, off that mark, in the Galway Hurdle in early August.
The notion he might one day land a Grade 1 over fences, and be a live contender for the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham, was pretty fanciful at that time.
But that is precisely where the horse is at today and he is now very much a live possibility for that jamboree in the Cotswolds come March.
Le Richebourg made a solid start over fences when taking his beginners’ chase at the Listowel festival and he backed that up subsequently when landing a modest Grade 3 at Tipperary.
But it was his performance in the Grade 1 Drinmore Chase, over two and half miles, at Fairyhouse on December 2 that signposted he was going to be way better at this game.
That afternoon he ran the race of his life to be beaten half a length into second by the ultra-smart Delta Work, after the pair had engaged in tussle from the back of the final fence.
The handicapper then slotted him at 150 as a chaser, a whopping 10lbs higher than as a hurdler, and that after only three spins in his new discipline.
It was a really good call, on the evidence of what we saw from Le Richebourg three days ago.
This is a horse who just loves jumping fences. He can stand miles off one and get to the other side with some ease. But he’s clever as well and, touch wood, never gives the impression he is likely to fall. And that has been the story with him right from the start.
Mind you, if you look back at him jumping the final fence on Wednesday, he definitely came up a stride too soon and has to have surprised Mark Walsh.
In any case, he was promoted to third favourite on Wednesday night for the Arkle Chase, varying between 8-1 and 12-1.
Le Richebourg is a terrific jumper, stays well beyond two miles and likes a decent surface. There are numerous worse ante-post wagers.
ON St Stephen’s Day, Limerick housed its first ever Grade 1 race, the Matchbook Betting Exchange Novice Chase, but you would have to say the turnout was disappointing, with only seven contestants. But that was almost inevitable, because most of the good horses are in the hands of a select few trainers.
The original entry of 23 was healthy enough, but when you looked a little closer you just knew a handful of runners was the most likely scenario.
Gordon Elliott was responsible for nine and Willie Mullins six, with the rest of the country having eight between them.
I mean this was a €100,000 contest, with €59,000 to the winner. In the end the major prize fell to Elliott’s Hardline, who took advantage of an error by Mullins’ hotpot, Getabird, at the last to beat that rival by half a length.
Getabird is an enigma and a hard horse to ride. He took a fair old pull, not for the first time, and seemed to take off when running downhill.
If he can’t be trusted travelling in the direction he needs to go, right-handed, then when can he be trusted?
I THOROUGHLY enjoyed Paul Nicholls landing his tenth King George V1 Chase at Kempton Park on Wednesday with the youngest horse in the field, Clan Des Obeaux.
Nicholls, a great operator, would surely love to again train the likes of Kauto Star, Denman and Big Buck’s, but is gradually getting back to where he belongs, on the top of the pile.
I didn’t back Clan Des Obeaux, no my enjoyment was based on a respect and a liking for Nicholls. When he was absolutely in his pomp, with Ruby Walsh as first jockey, I twice asked him to do pre- Cheltenham articles for the Examiner . He didn’t know me at all, but could not have been more obliging.
ON January 1, next Tuesday, we will all tune in to Racing TV, as the channel covers Irish racing for the first time. It will be seriously interesting and, have no doubt about it, they have a hard act to follow in Attheraces.
ATR have been fantastic supporters of our game and it is still difficult to comprehend why they have been given the bullet. On Wednesday last, for instance, the ATR coverage was magnificent. They had six meetings on their schedule and three of them were Irish.
But they managed it with aplomb and it was seamless and superb. Racing TV, however, is now the new reality, so let’s see how they measure up.