For fans of horse racing, the sport’s return can’t come quickly enough. All racing in the UK has been suspended since March 17th as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, and with the jumps season brought to a close despite some events not being able to be raced, attention turns to the flat racing campaign which would usually be gearing up for some big meetings around this time of year.
One of the biggest of these is the 2,000 Guineas, a race run at Newmarket and one of Britain’s five Classic races – along with the 1,000 Guineas, the Epsom Oaks, the Epsom Derby and the St. Leger Stakes. These are races steeped in history and tradition, and winning the 2,000 Guineas is one of the most sought-after victories in horse racing.
A man who has experienced this keenly in recent years is Donnacha O’Brien, the winning jockey in both the 2018 and 2019 editions of the race. Last year, he rode Magna Grecia to victory at Newmarket, while the year before it was Saxon Warrior who helped him achieve the feat. Born in July 1998, it was a remarkable achievement for a jockey so young, although O’Brien later announced that he was retiring as a jockey in order to focus on a career in training. Having won the Irish Champion Jockey title in 2019 it was seen as an interesting move, but perhaps it’s understandable given his father’s legendary status within the sport.
For those who don’t know, Donnacha is the son of legendary Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien, who trained both of Donnacha’s winners at the 2,000 Guineas in the last couple of years. Aidan is hugely revered in horse racing, and has a rich list of titles and achievements to his name, but his son has gone a long way towards carving a similar legacy in the sport, even at such a tender age. To hear Donnacha speak after he announced his retirement from the saddle was to appreciate a man with maturity beyond his years.
“I was never going to ride forever,” he said. “So it was just a matter of time before I called it. It was never going to be a good time to retire when you have a job like I did. There were always going to be good horses to look forward to and good races. So it was more I have something else coming up and I think it was just time to move to that chapter.”
So, today’s horse racing cards and tips will not show Donnacha as one of the jockeys competing, but he has already begun to make his mark as a trainer, saddling winner Flower Garland in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Fillies Maiden at Dundalk back in February, before the coronavirus pandemic put everything on hold.
“I have a few nice horses and it’s nice to get the first one out of the way,” O’Brien commented after that win. “I’ve 35 in at the moment. We have a few nice well-bred two-year-olds, the likes of Fancy Blue and a few three-year-olds that haven’t run. Hopefully there are a few decent horses there.”
It would be unfair to judge Donnacha’s training career based on the supreme success of his father, but those are the standards the young man will undoubtedly be aiming towards, despite his modest words in the media. After all, the winning habit that Aidan has formed over the years will have undoubtedly been passed down to his son, and before long we may be talking about Donnacha in just the same terms as his father, when we consider the top trainers in flat racing.