On the June bank holiday Monday in 1993, Aidan O’Brien trained his first winner, when Wandering Thoughts obliged at Tralee. Yesterday afternoon, 23 years later and at the corresponding meeting, now held in Listowel, his eldest son, Joseph, claimed his first official national hunt winner when Mai Fitzs Jack justified long odds-on favouritism in the John B Keane Maiden Hurdle.
The most remarkable aspect? That was just one of four winners on the day for the newly-licensed trainer, after his two national hunt winners at Listowel were emulated on the level at Gowran Park.
O’Brien’s first official winner came a little earlier in the afternoon with his first runner, when Justice Frederick belied a market drift to take the opening race at Gowran Park, at the expense of Leo Minor, trained by his father Aidan.
Summing up the remarkable achievement, Aidan, representing his son, said: “It’s exciting, isn’t it? It’s a massive day for us, and I’m delighted for Joseph.
“Straight-away, I got put in my place, at Gowran,” he joked, “My horse ran well and, first time out, he probably got tired, but I probably underestimated Joseph’s horse.”
Referring to Mai Fitzs Jack’s success, he added: “This horse, I think, was an unlucky loser last time. He made a mistake at the last two, and the winner [Heartbreak City] was a decent horse. I’d imagine Joseph will keep him busy, but he likes a little ease in the ground.”
O’Brien’s national hunt double was completed when Oathkeeper ran out an emphatic winner of the bumper, under his sister, Sara. The 11-8 favourite travelled stylishly in the slipstream of Bel Sas, before taking over at the top of the straight, and kicking a long way clear.
O’Brien snr, whose attempts to talk to his son during the day were scuppered by his phone signal, reported: “He looks a nice horse, and Joseph said he was just ready to start off. I think he intends to go jumping now.”
When it was suggested Joseph might be getting greater pleasure out of training than riding, he replied: “He loves the training. He also loved riding, but it was tough for him there for a long time, doing nine stone every morning. He’s a big man now, he’s well over 11 stone already, but he doesn’t look heavy.”
Relishing the prospect of future clashes between the stables, he added: “No-one will get more pleasure out of it than me, but from now on I’ll have to keep my eye on the ball.”
The win by Mai Fitzs Jack proved to be the middle leg of a treble for jockey Brian O’Connell — the first of his career — as he was also successful on Una’s Pleasure in the opener and Popboru in the third race, both of which are trained in Doneraile by John Joe Walsh.
In the opening Kingdom Mares’ Maiden Hurdle, 9-2 chance Una’s Pleasure raced in midfield for much of the trip, but made rapid late gains to assert herself inside the final 50 yards.
“She did it well, she’s a good stayer, and the good gallop suited her,” said Walsh. “Brian gave her a nice ride, he waited until the others were finished. We’ll keep her on the go now, as she’s a summer mare, and we’ll look for a handicap over two and a half miles.”
Popboru completed Walsh’s double and O’Connell’s treble when running out a ready winner of the Harvest Festival September 11-17 Handicap Hurdle.
O’Connell, riding with confidence, rode the inside line most of the way, sent his mount to the front jumping the second-last, and had plenty in hand to repel game veteran Marshim.
“She had very good form last year, and seemed to be back to that level,” said Walsh. “She came on nicely for her return, and Brian gave her a great ride. She’ll go handicapping for the summer, and maybe a little handicap in Galway may come around.”
Thomas Gibney’s Ah Littleluck completed a personal hat-trick, in just 31 days, when taking the Old Weir Handicap Hurdle by a wide margin. The six-year-old, ridden by 7lb claimer Mark Flanagan, was a little keen early, but travelled best into the straight, and coasted clear to score by 10 lengths.
“Lucky the owners are not listening to me, because I wanted to let him out a month ago,” said the Meath trainer. “He’s thriving in the sunshine, eating well, looking well, and doing well, so we decided to keep him going a bit longer. but he’s on the go a long time now, so we’ll definitely have to give him a breather now.”
Henry de Bromhead was on the mark with stable debutant Stellar Notion, who made all the running to take the John J Galvin Handicap Chase under Robbie Power.
Royal Boru, a winner at Tramore on Saturday, was trying to mount a challenge when crashing out at the second last, and that left the leader to race home clear.
Formerly with Paul Nicholls and, previously, with Tom George, the imposing gelding could be Galway bound.
“It was a super ride from Robbie; he got to dictate it all, and the horse jumped great,” said the winning trainer. “He’s a really nice horse to get. He had done a couple of nice bits of work, but you never know.
“He’s massive, and you’d imagine a more galloping track would suit. The Galway Plate would have to cross your mind. I think he would be entitled to go there after that.”
The Joe O’Keeffe-trained Hard Station, a winner at Killarney, toyed with the opposition in the hunters’ chase, slowing and quickening at will, for a facile win under Johnny Barry.
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