Joseph O’Brien

Joseph O’Brien Interview

Joseph O’Brien: Cheltenham really is the Olympics of horse racing but it still makes more sense to focus on Flat racing rather than National Hunt

Speaking to DAZN Bet, Joseph O’Brien has outlined what Cheltenham means to trainers as he seeks to balance his focus between Jumps and Flat racing. O’Brien also spoke about what it might take for the O’Brien family to compete with the Mullins clan in the future.

Joseph O’Brien on Cheltenham Festival: The Pinnacle of Horse Racing

Joseph O’Brien’s unique perspective on the Cheltenham Festival, an event he describes as the Olympics of horse racing, and how it holds a special place in his heart despite a shifting focus in his training regimen.

DAZN Bet: With Cheltenham coming up, how is your hand looking? It looks a smaller cast list for you this year.

JOSEPH O’BRIEN: “In recent seasons, we’ve been concentrating more on our flat horses and, as a result, we don’t have as many jumps horses training at the moment.

“We still have a select few nice horses for Cheltenham, and that team will be headed up mainly by Banbridge who has been one of our flag bearers in recent times.

“Home By The Lee is intended to run in the Stayers’ Hurdle, and we’ll have a horse called Nurburgring who will run in the Triumph Hurdle.

“Lark In The Mornin will either run in the Triumph or the Fred Winter. We’ve got a couple more handicappers, with a horse called Solness who will run in the handicap and another called Busselton who will go in one of the handicaps as well.”

DZBT: What does Cheltenham mean to you? You’ve had an amazing career on the flat, but does it still have a special place in your heart?

JOSEPH O’BRIEN: “Cheltenham is one of the best racing spectacles of the year – it’s been called the Olympics of horse racing many times and that’s really what it is.

“Whether we’re competing there or not, Cheltenham is a week we look forward to every year. I would absolutely go there even if I didn’t have any runners.

“The attendance is huge every year and the atmosphere is fantastic every day, with top-class racing and it’s a special event.”

Balancing Act: Joseph O’Brien’s Transition from National Hunt to Flat Racing

Joseph O’Brien’s move from National Hunt to Flat racing, reflects on the financial implications and plans for his stable.

DZBT: In recent times, you’ve talked about reducing your National Hunt string – what is the reasoning behind this, is it financial?

JOSEPH O’BRIEN: “The fact of the matter is that, for the bottom line, it makes much more sense to train Flat horses.

“We’ve been lucky in recent seasons with some of the Flat horses who have competed internationally with our operation getting bigger and bigger.

“For that reason, we made the decision to focus more on the Flat and expand that side of the business rather than the National Hunt

“That being said, we fully intend to have representation in National Hunt racing going forwards, I love Jumps racing and will always be passionate about it. We will always have National Hunt horses, but maybe not quite on the same scale as what we had a few years ago.

Dynastic Rivalries and Irish Pride: O’Brien’s Views on the Anglo-Irish Racing Scene

Joseph O’Brien discusses the Anglo-Irish rivalry, the dominance of the Mullins clan, and his family’s enduring legacy in the sport.

DZBT: In terms of the Anglo-Irish rivalry, particularly at Cheltenham, is it just cyclical?

JOSEPH O’BRIEN: “In every sport there’s a dominant force, obviously Willie Mullins is particularly strong at the moment, but he’s come from taking runners over to the UK many years ago just trying to win one race.

“Now, he’s winning more than ever, so you have to take your hat off to him and recognise that it’s just the nature of sport.

“It is incredible, every year that goes by, he just seems to get stronger. It’s tough to compete with him in Ireland, but you’ve got the likes of Henry De Bromhead and Gordon Elliott and these people are doing very well, but ultimately Willie is the dominant force.”

Joseph O’Brien: Legacy, Learning, and the Future of Racing

Reflecting on his upbringing in a racing dynasty, the lessons learned from his father, and his aspirations to continue the family’s success in the evolving landscape of horse racing.

DZBT: Didn’t your father (Aidan O’Brien) start out in the Jumps game? It must have some importance to your family, would he ever come back to take on Willie Mullins?

JOSEPH O’BRIEN: “Absolutely, both mum and dad were both National Hunt trainers in Ireland at different times, so National Hunt is really in our blood and that’s why we’ll continue to have a presence in National Hunt racing.

“I don’t know if he’ll come back to have a go at Willie – I’m sure he’d love to have some National Hunt horses in the future but I don’t think that’s on the horizon right now.”

DZBT: Ireland appears to be having an amazing time right now in sport, what do you think has contributed to this?

JO “Ireland has probably punched above its weight in sport, but I suppose Irish people are synonymous with horses and horse racing from generation to generation.

“We have great breeders in Ireland who breed fantastic horses, and there’s so many good horse people in Ireland who work on stud farms and training yards throughout the country.

“Ultimately, it’s the horses who perform on the track not only in the UK & Ireland, but also on the world stage.”

DZBT: What about the racing dynasties in Ireland, what is completion like between the families?

JOSEPH O’BRIEN: “With racing, horses dominate the conversation and we’ve been very lucky that we’ve grown up in horse racing in the environment that we did.

“It was all-encompassing and all of my siblings are very passionate about the industry. We all get on very well and my cousins as well, with JJ Slevin, who’s a National Hunt jockey, and our wider family who work in the industry – we all get on very well.

“We compete with and against each other on a weekly basis.”

DZBT: What’s the big thing you’ve learned from your father? Is there much of a rivalry when you compete?

JOSEPH O’BRIEN: “Everything that I’ve learned about racing has been through them, and I suppose that work ethic is extraordinary, as well as his attention to detail.

“We compete on the track every week in Ireland but when dad wins we are very happy for him. We win occasionally and they’re happy for us, so it’s very much a case of what happens on the track stays there with everyone doing the best they can to win.

“Sometimes we win and usually dad wins.”

DZBT: Is it difficult being the son of such a famous trainer as you make your own way in the industry? There are lots of examples in sport where it’s hard for children to emulate their parents but you seem to have done that

JOSEPH O’BRIEN: “I’m very fortunate to be in the position I’m in, with the grounding I’ve had and it helps to have dad at the other end of the phone at any time.

“I feel like I’m very fortunate to be in what is a very privileged position, and we work as hard as we can and make the best of whatever opportunities we get.

“His success is extraordinary really, the performances all season on the track are so strong, so we’re lucky to have grown up in that environment.”

Expanding Horizons: Joseph O’Brien on International Competition and Attracting New Fans

Joseph O’Brien discusses the importance of competing on an international stage and shares his insights on how the sport of horse racing can attract a younger, more diverse audience.

DZBT: Will you be looking to emulate the scale of your father’s operation in the future?

JOSEPH O’BRIEN: “We probably have a couple of hundred horses in work at the moment, and like any trainer I’ll aim to grow the quality of the stock we have and more winners.

“Then, you want more winners on the big stage and some years you have more than others. The hope is that every year, the following one will be the best one yet and that’s no different as we head into 2024.”

DZBT: How increasingly important is it to compete overseas?

JOSEPH O’BRIEN: “It is, the world is a smaller place nowadays and there’s competitive flat racing with very good prize money all around the world which we can compete in throughout the year.

“We’re all keen to make the most of the opportunities we have with our horses if that means competing in the Middle East, Australia or America. Wherever in the world the races are, we’re always willing to give it a go.”

DZBT: Australia and the Middle East are buying up a lot of middle-distance horses, is that a concern?

JOSEPH O’BRIEN: “I don’t know if it’s a concern, our best horses are kept in the UK and Ireland to race at least until the end of the three-year-old season.

“It’s fantastic as it creates a really good market for those horses as they compete on the track and showcase their ability.

“Ultimately, it’s the standard of the racing in the UK and Ireland which makes these horses sought after internationally. It’s been seen all over the world that if a horse can win a Maiden in Ireland, then that will translate to at least as good a performance anywhere else in the world.”

DZBT: What might you change to attract a younger audience to racing?

JOSEPH O’BRIEN: “That’s the million dollar question for those running the sport, not only in Ireland but across the world as well.

“I think really good efforts are being made, in the last five years or so I’ve really noticed the amount of young people who are going to racing, particularly at the big Festivals like Cheltenham and Royal Ascot.

“The Dublin Racing Festival earlier this month at Leopardstown there were a hell of a lot of young people and even a lot of people coming over from the UK.

“Ultimately, showcasing these Festivals and big events is the best way to bring young people into the sport. Seeing the cream of the crop and the best of the best racing against each other is how we can attract a new generation into our sport.”

DZBT: What would be your dream winner and where would it be?

JOSEPH O’BRIEN: “There is something special about Royal Ascot and competing there is arguably one of the best race meetings anywhere in the world.

“My ultimate ambition every year is to win Group 1 and Grade 1 races, competing at the top level domestically and internationally and getting better every year.”