New beginnings for the ‘Voice of Ireland’ O’Brien

While he didn’t know himself until quite recently that he would be involved in the newly-branded Racing TV, it was an absolute no-brainer that the man christened ‘The Voice of Ireland’ by his former At The Races colleague, Matt Chapman, would be the headline act of the team selected to lead the station’s debut covering the Irish action.

There are few more respected presenters in the sport due to his deep knowledge and shrewdness.

Then you have the outstanding post-race interviews with trainers and jockeys that offer the clearest indication of the standing the key stakeholders hold him in. He has credibility with them and the viewer is the winner as a result.

Gary O'Brien of Racing TV. Photo: Healy Racing.

This was why the 41-year-old was a must-get for Racing TV executives as they prepare to take over the Irish beat from January 1. He is enthusiastic about the new role.

“I’m a little bit the same as everyone else in that I’m not fully sure what to expect,” says O’Brien.

“I was with At The Races for the guts of 15 years. I met and worked with some great people along the way and it’s said that I have to leave.

“But the people I have met so far have really welcomed me into the fold and made me feel genuinely part of the team even though I haven’t started yet.

"I would know some of the production staff, who worked with At The Races and SIS previously so that helps, and I know a few of the presenters as well.

I am excited about it. It’s going to be a little bit different. The first few weeks I’ll get a feel for it, the same as it will be for people watching it.

The good news is that he won’t be changing his approach.

“Certainly up to this point, nobody has made even any suggestions to me about how I go about things, to do it any different to what I’ve done up to this. Presumably if they’re happy to have me on the team, they’re reasonably happy with the style I operate in.

“I try to keep people informed about what’s going on but at the same time, keep it lighthearted and not be afraid to have a bit of a laugh here and there too. It’s trying to get the balance right.

“The first day will be hectic but I know they’re anxious to hit the ground running with the Irish stuff. I’m not sure whether I’ll be at Fairyhouse or Tramore yet but I will be at one of them.”

fireworks display lights up the Happy Valley sky during the opening ceremony for the Longines International Jockeys’ Championship in Hong won by Silvestre De Sousa with Irish jockey Colin Keane finishing second. See Page 18. Picture: Healy Racing.

The move to Racing TV from At The Races has attracted criticism within the industry in Ireland but O’Brien is hopeful that people will be won over.

“Numbers-wise, the idea is to have someone at the track at least on par if not higher than it was previously. That’s great. They’ll use me a little bit over in England when they feel it will be of benefit to the programme, like Cheltenham, so that’s something to look forward to too.

“Everybody is familiar with the brilliant job that At The Races did and when there’s change, particularly when it’s moving to a subscription channel, that leads to a little bit of uncertainty. But they have done a lot of work with the fixture list, the midweek days in particular, so there’s going to be a nice balance.

My understanding is that on busy days, when there mightn’t be time to play out some of the interviews and other content that will be going out, they will still go out on the live streams but for the channel, they will have a review after the races have finished and pop them in after the races themselves.

“That was one of the things, a lot of people, including myself and Kevin Ryan were concerned about, that some of the smaller trainers might get marginalised. But with that undertaking, that won’t happen.

“And the magazine show, will be Irish focused at least once a month. They’ve told me they’re very keen to shine a light on a few of the lesser known trainers outside of Ireland.”

From Malahide originally, O’Brien’s passion from racing was inherited from his father, who brought him racing as early as he can remember.

“My father had shares in a few horses with Jim Dreaper and would be pally enough with Jim. We used to be over in Jim’s in the glory days, when Carvill’s Hill was there. It was brilliant for a kid like me. It was pretty much odds-on I’d go that way.”

He has been involved in the ownership of a number of horses himself over the years and been very lucky with the likes of Bayan, Ibsen, Vics Canvas, and Folsom Blue all winners.

Bayan was a Ladbrokes Hurdle winner in Ascot, while Vics Canvas finished third in the Aintree Grand National. Folsom Blue was fifth in the Irish version this year but was very unlucky, after suffering dreadful interference jumping the last fence.

As usual, he will be keeping it balanced when working on the days that Folsom Blue, the only one that quartet still racing, takes to the track. Right now though, he just can’t wait to get going.

“From my own point of view, we’re going to do everything we can to make it a success and hopefully it will be well received and I guess we’ll get an idea soon enough but the commitment is there to shine a light on Irish racing and I’m looking forward to it.


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