Tom O’Brien: Born To Ride
Riding as a youngster for his uncle, leading Flat trainer Aidan O’Brien, Tom O’Brien was primed for a career in horse racing. Opting to become a National Hunt jockey, he already has a Welsh Grand National under his belt. Here, he shares with Amlin World his other big ambitions in the sport.
You won the Conditional Jockey Championship in 2006 and broke the record of winners for a conditional jockey that year with 107. What would you put that early success down to?
Getting the opportunity was down to luck, but I was careful to take advantage of it.
Did you learn a lot from your uncle, Aidan O’Brien?
Yes, I learnt lots from my time with him, which was around five years – things you wouldn’t learn anywhere else. In terms of the quality of horses and records achieved, well, it was great to be a part of such a powerful team.
How does it compare riding flat horses like High Chaparral and Rock Of Gibraltar on the gallops, to riding over fences?
They are both very exciting, but I suppose I personally get more of a thrill riding over jumps. The flat horses have so much speed and power, while the jump horses obviously have more stamina for the jumps and handling softer conditions. Jumping gives me a great thrill.
Have you always been a thrill seeker then?
Yes, when I was younger and working at Ballydoyle I used to watch jumpers in England and Ireland and always wanted to come over and do it.
You won the Welsh Grand National on Dream Alliance in 2009. How did it feel to win such a big race for the Philip Hobbs yard?
It was amazing because it was my first winner after breaking my leg. I’d had five months on the sidelines and when I came back I thought the gap would have filled so quickly that there wouldn’t be many opportunities for me. It was a great win to get, especially for my boss who had never won the race before.
What are your biggest ambitions in jump racing? Would you hope one day to take over from Richard Johnson as number one stable jockey for Philip Hobbs?
Yes I would love to take over as number one for Philip Hobbs in the future, but for now I want to get back and ride 100 winners in one season again. You obviously need to be first jockey at a big stable to do that – only about four or five people a year do it – but I have done it before so there’s no reason I can’t do it again. That’s the standard that I want to get back up to.
We are heading towards the 2014 Cheltenham Festival. Which horses are you most looking forward to riding there?
I am most looking forward to riding a young flat horse called Modus in the Champion Bumper. He’s won two Bumper races so far, and his form in those races was easily good enough to take his place at Cheltenham. My friend Robert Stephens is training him, so it would really put him on the map if the horse were to win. He has a lot of potential and I think he could reach the very top. I’m also looking forward to riding for my governor Mr Hobbs. He has plenty in the handicaps with good chances but it’s not sorted out which ones I will ride yet.
Outside of horse racing, are there any other sports you play or simply enjoy as a spectator?
I like watching all sports at the highest level, from golf to rugby and football. And I would love to learn to ski one day.
Who are some of your sporting heroes and why?
In horse racing I think Tony McCoy is the best of them all. I can see what he puts into it every day, from watching his weight seven days a week to taking the falls. He definitely does more than anyone else.
Away from racing how do you like to spend your days off?
I like to spend as much time as I can with my partner Lisa and my cocker-spaniel Bella.
Jockeys have to work hard to keep their weight off. On those rare occasions you are allowed to indulge, what would be your favourite meal?
Medium steak with all the trimmings. And mum’s home cooking back in Ireland. In particular, her specialty dish of bacon and cabbage.
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