Trainer Aidan O’Brien could barely contain his excitement as son Joseph made Breeders’ Cup history with victory aboard St. Nicholas Abbey in the Turf race at Churchill Downs in Kentucky on Saturday.
O’Brien Junior was the talk of the Kentucky track after a faultless ride aboard the former champion two-year-old as the teenager became the youngest jockey ever to win a Breeders’ Cup race.
Only 18, Joseph looked older than his tender years as he steered St. Nicholas Abbey, trained by his father, past the post ahead of Sea Moon and Brilliant Speed as the favorite Sarafina failed to find form.
The O’Brien family struggled to control their emotions on a sensational day for the Coolmore team
Winning jockey Joseph said, “It’s a dream come true. The horse was always going easy and picked up when it mattered. I had to be patient and wait for the gaps but when I got out at the bottom of the straight, he picked up really well.
“I’ve been coming to the Breeders’ Cup since I was a little boy. To win a race here is very, very special.
“Obviously there was a fair degree of nerves, but I was looking forward to it. He jumped good, had a nice position and travelled well. We got the gaps and he picked up well.”
His father added, “It’s very special, unbelievable. It was a wonderful ride, it’s incredible. What can I say, he’s an incredible rider.
“It’s something I can’t put into words, it’s just been one of those really special days. It’s magic for Joseph. He has been doing it since his eyes were open, and he knows the horses better than me.
“From the time he was six he has been coming to the Breeders’ Cup and he’s never known anything else.”
Mum Anne Marie was also on hand to witness the historic win. “I’m so excited, he gave it a super ride. It’s fantastic. My heart was going 100mph, I could hardly stand up I was so nervous. We are so pleased to be here,” she said.
Having ridden his first Group One winner in May on Roderic O’Connor in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, O’Brien Junior was ready for the Breeders’ Cup challenge, at an event he knows well despite his youth.
As the nature of the win began to dawn on the teenager and his family, Joseph added, “It’s a dream come true. To ride here and ride a winner -- it’s out of this world.”
Coolmore partner Derrick Smith said, “This is way up there. We’ve always had faith in the horse and to see Joseph, it’s a day from the gods. They have put so much work into everything. It’s unbelievable for us.
“Joseph has unbelievable natural talent, he was a three-day event rider and his confidence gets better and better.
“With this horse, we always knew the ability was there. He finished sixth in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket last year which wasn’t a bad run, but then sustained an injury that kept him off for a year.
“Everything came together today, but make no mistake he has always been a brilliant horse. The horse showed all his brilliance today, we always knew it was there.”
O’Brien, big for a flat jockey at almost six foot tall, admits he will eventually switch to the jumps. “I’ll keep riding on the flat for as long as possible, and take it from there,” he concluded.
The win by St. Nicholas Abbey was the second of the day for O’Brien’s Ballydoyle stable after Ryan Moore and Wrote to Glory triumphed in the Juvenile Turf event, but the O’Brien trained So You Think failed to make the places in the Classic which was won by Drosselmeyer.
In other racing news, Johnny Murtagh has been crowned Ireland’s leading flat jockey again after a double on the final day of the season at Leopardstown saw him pip rival Pat Smullen to the title.