As he awaited the judge’s verdict from yesterday’s Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes photo at the Curragh Joseph O’Brien refused to believe. A few yards away, his father Aidan, the very definition or a relentless winner, found himself in unique territory: Hoping a horse under his care had finished second.
Seconds passed. Then came the announcement. Intricately, trained by Joseph, had got up on the line to thwart Hydrangea, trained by Aidan, by a short head. Cue bedlam.
Joseph, who won the Epsom Derby on Camelot as a 19-year-old jockey, who this year trained a Cheltenham Festival winner in Ivanovich Gorbatov even though he wasn’t yet officially a trainer had now, at the tender age of 23, trained a Group 1 winner.
In doing so he provided Donnacha, his younger brother, with a first Group 1 as a jockey at the tender age of 18. And he’d gotten one over on the old man to boot. All three protagonists used the word ‘unbelievable’ numerous times as they sought to make sense of what they had just witnessed. It was as good a word as any.
“I never thought she got up, I didn’t think she got up,” Joseph said. “She’s very tough and Donnacha was very strong on her, he gave her a great ride. This means the world to me. It’s Donnacha’s first Group One and my mum bred her. It’s unbelievable.”
While Joseph initially feared the worst, Donnacha’s instinct told him he had got there.
“I thought on the line I had got it, I wasn’t sure, but I thought I had got it,” he said. “My filly is as tough as nails and I knew she’d have the head down for me.”
He did, however, concede he had not yet got his head around yesterday’s seismic events before a crowd of 9,255.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. “It’s unbelievable, Joseph’s first Group 1 and my first Group 1 so it’s a very special day and it being Irish Champions Weekend makes it even more special.”
A race later, normal service was resumed as Churchill, trained by Aidan, powered to victory in the National Stakes. But in the winner’s enclosure, Aidan’s primary focus was the race that had taken place 40 minutes earlier.
“The respect those two lads showed me in the last race,” he said with a smile. “It was unbelievable, I can’t describe the feeling really – it was the most unbelievable day.”
So unbelievable that Aidan found himself thinking strange thoughts.
“Honestly, I was only hoping our filly wouldn’t put her head in front to tell the truth. I shouldn’t be saying that but it’s the reality. It’s so hard to win a Group 1 and I couldn’t believe that Joseph, at 23, could win a Group 1. Where Joseph trains is where we trained but we never trained a Group One winner or anything close to it. And for Donnacha at 18… I’m just so delighted for everyone. We all try our best to win every race and always will do but this was one race we were very happy to be finishing second in.”
You’d struggle to script such a tale but Joseph and Donnacha did feel Intricately was wildly overpriced at 25/1.
“It (winning) is a surprise but I could not believe she was 25/1 today, she was only a length behind the second-favourite (Rhododendron) the last day and we thought she was better today than she was all along,” Joseph said.
“She was flying all last week so there was no reason why she shouldn’t have been competitive today.”
Joseph’s achievements in the saddle never did get the recognition they warranted and he was, in truth, always fighting a losing battle with the scales.
As recently as last week he proved he hasn’t lost the knack, coming out of retirement to win the Leger Legends charity race at Doncaster. But, while retirement may have been forced on him prematurely, he seems to have found his true calling.
“Training is 10 times better,” he said when asked what gave him a greater sense of fulfilment. “There’s a bigger kick, a lot more work goes in to each individual horse.”
As for the filly that made yesterday’s feelgood story possible, the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket in October could beckon.
“She’s in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket, and we’ll see how she comes out of this,” Joseph said. “She doesn’t have to run again this season.”
Looking ahead, the possibility of having a Classic contender next year will shorten the winter.
“The dam is by Galileo so you’d imagine she’d stay,” Joseph said. “She’s plenty of pace so you could start off in the 1,000 Guineas and think about the Oaks then but we’ll enjoy today first.”
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