O’Brien can her­ald change of guard

Young trainer aims for cross-code suc­cess with an in-form team

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Brian O’Con­nor:

It re­mains Irish rac­ing’s most sin­gu­lar event but there will be an un­doubted chang­ing-of-the-guard el­e­ment to Gal­way’s 2017 fes­ti­val should Joseph O’Brien emerge as the week’s top trainer.

Ai­dan O’Brien’s 24-year-old son has of­fi­cially held a li­cence for only just over a year but has been backed into 9-4 sec­ond favourite to lift the Lead­ing Trainer award.

A year ago Wil­lie Mullins pulled off what once would have seemed near-im­pos­si­ble and de­throned the tra­di­tional “King of Ballybrit”, Der­mot Weld. Jump rac­ing’s mae­stro is odds-on to re­tain the ti­tle.

But with Weld dis­miss­ing his chances of re­sum­ing Gal­way dom­i­nance on the back of a virus-hit cam­paign, it is O’Brien who is widely an­tic­i­pated to emerge as Mullins’s main dan­ger. It makes for a dif­fer­ent sort of fes­ti­val spec­u­la­tion about how most of this week’s record ¤2 mil­lion prize­money pot is likely to wind up be­ing di­vided out.

Off the track there will be change too with con­spic­u­ous new se­cu­rity ar­range­ments and re­stric­tions in place as crowds of more than 140,000 peo­ple are ex­pected over the next seven days.

If that’s a sign of how even one of Irish sport’s most ea­gerly awaited high­lights is not im­mune from dispir­it­ing wider re­al­i­ties, it won’t stop the tra­di­tional fo­cus on a bet­ting ring which is ex­pected to turn over about ¤8 mil­lion dur­ing the week. An­other ¤5 mil­lion could be bet on-course on the tote.

Rac­ing’s sands are rarely un­shift­ing how­ever, some­thing high­lighted again on Fri­day with Michael O’Leary’s de­ci­sion to fire Bryan Cooper as his re­tained rider. The Ryanair boss’s Gig­gin­stown colours will be ab­sent from this evening’s card but Cooper has two rides, in­clud­ing one for Weld in the open­ing novice hur­dle.

That’s the race which sees the for­mer cham­pion Barry Ger­aghty re­turn to ac­tion af­ter break­ing his arm in the Irish Na­tional on Easter Mon­day. There’s a neat sym­me­try to how his first mount back, Le Richebourg, is horse No 1 for the first race on the first day of the fes­ti­val. It could also be a sign of the week to come that it is O’Brien’s name at the top.

Gal­way Plate

It’s 22 years since Ai­dan O’Brien won the Gal­way Plate with Life Of A Lord. A year later the same horse won the big chase again. In 1997 Toast The Spreece landed the Gal­way Hur­dle un­der Tony McCoy.

Two decades later and O’Brien’s son is pre­par­ing one of the 7-1 joint-favourites for Thurs­day’s ¤300,000 Guin­ness Hur­dle in Ti­gris River while Slow­mo­tion is set to run in Wed­nes­day’s Tote Plate.

O’Brien sad­dles five run­ners to­day. They com­pete for the novice hur­dle and the fol­low­ing hand­i­cap hur­dle. Medal Of Hon­our has an out­stand­ing chance in the two year old maiden. Ea­gle Spirit is top of a flat hand­i­cap and Chess Grand Master has a big bumper shout.

Weld and Mullins sad­dle five each too and have two and three run­ners re­spec­tively in the fea­tured ¤100,000 hand­i­cap for am­a­teur rides.

But if one man’s fo­cus is mostly on the flat, and the other’s over jumps, their young ri­val has cards to play across the codes, as has been proven em­phat­i­cally in re­cent weeks. The run has brought O’Brien’s jumps tally this sea­son to 26. He has had 24 on the flat.

“The horses have been run­ning well all sum­mer and long may it con­tinue,” O’Brien said yes­ter­day. “Gal­way isn’t some­thing we’ve made a pri­or­ity of but ev­ery­one loves a win­ner there.”

He rode many dur­ing a short but bril­liantly suc­cess­ful rid­ing ca­reer and en­joyed Gal­way’s tight and un­du­lat­ing cir­cuit with the fi­nal hill al­ways con­tain­ing the po­ten­tial to al­ter the face of a race late on.

His vic­to­ries in­cluded the ju­ve­nile maiden twice on Robin Hood (2010) and Ja­maica (2014.) This time he will sad­dle

Medal of Hon­our for the race. The colt has his fifth ca­reer start, again un­der the trainer’s younger brother, Don­nacha, who had a Cur­ragh hat-trick on Sat­ur­day. Last time out the horse was run­ner-up to next year’s Derby favourite, The Pen­tagon.

“Ex­pe­ri­ence is a good bonus for him. He’s been un­lucky in bump­ing into some above av­er­age ones. You’d think in nor­mal cir­cum­stances he’d have won a maiden by now,” the trainer said.

Joseph O’Brien: “The horses have been run­ning well all sum­mer”

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