Past Winners » Joseph O’Brien


Message of 24th March 2012

This is a little unusual, but I am backing Joseph O’Brien this morning to be top flat jockey in Ireland this season.

Significantly for the youngster, yesterday the Irish Turf Club raised the weights that flat racehorses will carry this season. The weights that horses carry in maidens have been increased by 2lb, while the maximum weight in nurseries has been increased by 3lb, and by 2lb in three-year-old handicaps. Also, the lowest weight that horses will carry in conditions and black-type races has been increased by 2lb to 9st.

This is huge for Joseph O’Brien, who could ride fairly comfortably at 9st last season, and could do 1lb or 2lb lighter if he needed to. It means that, all things being equal, the number of horses that he will not be able to ride this season because of his weight should be significantly reduced.

Who knows how things are going to pan out at Ballydoyle this season, but there has to be a big chance that Joseph will get to ride the pick of the horses as the season develops. Last season, Ryan Moore rode the top horses when he was available, and the rest of the horses were split between Joseph, Seamie Heffernan and Colm O’Donoghue. Ryan Moore may not feature much this season, there were rumours going around at the end of last term that he was going to be Ballydoyle’s number one this season, but that hasn’t happened, and his involvement may be reduced significantly now this term.

As well as that, Joseph is coming of age. He is a top class rider, horses settle for him, he is strong in a finish, he is a superb judge of pace from the front, and now he has huge experience under his belt, with an Irish 2000 Guineas and a Breeders’ Cup Turf now on his cv. Even if he doesn’t have the pick of all the Ballydoyle horses, he is sure to be in huge demand from outside trainers, and his agent is among the best in the business.

Last season, Joseph O’Brien finished third in the jockeys’ championship behind Johnny Murtagh and Pat Smullen, and he was just a whipper-snapper last year. He does have a gap of 30 winners to bridge on last year’s performance, but that is more than possible, especially if he does have the pick of the Ballydoyle horses. As things stand at present, I think they should be betting more like 2/1 each of three, rather than 11/8 Murtagh, 6/4 Smullen and 4/1 O’Brien. Of course, there is a long season ahead, and lots of unforeseen events will occur, riders will get injured and get suspended, and things may not pan out as it looks like they might at present. Even allowing for all of that though, the betting is still wrong in my book.

Odds in these specialty markets tend not to be too robust sometimes, but three firms are going 4/1 about O’Brien, so the price should be fairly well available. Even if bookmakers do cut him, I still think that he is a bet at 5/2 or better.