It was on board Australia he claimed his first Derby winner and it was in the country of the same name on its grandest of racing days that Joseph O’Brien announced himself as a trainer to be admired and feared given his potential.
The only first that mattered was saddling Rekindling, besting his father’s Johannes Vermeer and Willie Mullins’ Max Dynamite in an unprecedented Irish 1-2-3 to claim the AUS$3.6 million (€2.4m) prize. But it was a day of many firsts. Indeed, it was the 24-year-old’s first entrant in the prestigious race, the first Irish-trained victor since 2002 and only the third ever following Vintage Crop in 1993. A first three-year-old winner since 1941.
Seventeen years younger than the victorious jockey Corey Brown mounting his second Cup victory, O’Brien was the talk of a nation stopped by this race. A proud, if defeated, Aidan O’Brien watched on from Barbados as Joseph emphasised he is more than the son of the father. But then it’s long been evident in the humility and the understated nature of Joseph how much he has learned from his dad.
“I can’t quite believe it yet,” he smiled. “I just so thankful to Lloyd and Nick (Williams), they suggested bringing him down and that he’d have a good chance. Corey gave him an unbelievable ride and I’m just so delighted for all the team and the lads at home. The lads that have been with him out here have done a tremendous job. So much more goes into training than riding a winner — the kick you get as a trainer is so much bigger.”
O’Brien was never going to pat himself on the back but there were plenty forthcoming from owner Williams, who was effusive in his praise of the young trainer who provided him with his sixth Melbourne Cup triumph, a record feat.
“It is extraordinary, close to being able to walk on water. It’s an amazing achievement. You’re going to see a career kicked off here that’s going to include Breeders’ Cup and all sorts of things.
“He will be one of the leading trainers in the world — and I have thought that for 18 months. He has a pedigree better than Galileo; he is the next Aidan O’Brien. I’m very egotistical and I have been saying for some time he would be the leading trainer in the world. I won’t be here long enough, unfortunately. I’m in the last quarter (of my life) — in fact, they have me on the interchange bench — but you are going to see a career kicked off here, seriously.
“We are going to see this young man doing all sorts of things. He will emulate his father, maybe more. His father has won 308 Group 1s, something pretty minor.”
He continued: “You can’t put into words what doing this with a 24-year-old means to me and he is going to have a wonderful career but he will always be a Melbourne Cup-winning trainer. The three-year-olds have had the better of the older horses in Europe this year and he lived right up to that form.”
Fledgling would seem an inaccurate word to describe O’Brien junior’s training career but it is just that and yet he already has five Group 1 wins in the ledger this season. O’Brien senior’s quest to claim a Melbourne Cup goes on but he was in no mood for complaining, according to his son. “I have already spoken to him,” Joseph said afterwards. “The first thing he said to me was well done. He is over the moon, too. His horse ran a cracker and he was delighted.”
For Johannes Vermeer’s jockey Ben Melhem, though, there was disappointment. ““It is heartbreaking, really. But I couldn’t have asked for a better trip throughout the race. He relaxed beautifully ... he was able to shift off back the fence at the right stage.
“He straightened up and he travelled well into the straight and I was just mindful of going too early on him. I sat on him for as long as I could and pressed the button, and I thought we were home, to be honest, but probably the weight difference was a telling story at the finish.”
Mullins was thrilled with eight-year-old stayer Max Dynamite’s run for third following his runners-up spot two years ago. “I’m delighted with him. I thought about halfway up the stretch that if he could get room, he might get out and do it, but I think his age maybe caught up with him.
“We’re delighted with him and Thomas Hobson, who eventually got into sixth, and Wicklow Brave who was 10th, what more can you ask for? We’ll just have to get a new group of horses probably (to come back). These guys are probably at the end of their career at this level, but I’ll be back.”
For Brown, who returned to Australia following four years in Singapore, it marked a dream homecoming. “Just everything went right. There was a scrimmage at the 1200m and Max Dynamite and me squeezed through on the fence. We got to the top of the straight and travelled strongly. I thought, ‘If you have got something left we have a big chance’. He just let down but we had to chase the other one of Lloyd’s but he was just too strong.”
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