Joseph O’Brien made the Melbourne Cup history books on Tuesday becoming the youngest ever trainer to win the ‘Race That Stops A Nation’ thanks to the success of Rekindling.
The 24-year-old became just the second Irish horseman to prepare the winner of the iconic two mile handicap joining Dermot K. Weld.
Weld won his first ‘Loving Trophy’ in 1993 with Vintage Crop the first ever international Melbourne Cup champion and returned to the winners’ stall in 2002 with Media Puzzle.
Vintage Crop’s success in 1993 was remarkably the same year O’Brien, son of arguably the world’s best trainer Aidan O’Brien, was born.
A former jockey who rode no less than 30 Group 1 winners during his time in the saddle, O’Brien Jnr. has only held a trainers’ licence since early 2016.
That didn’t stop him from dominating on the world stage at Flemington Racecourse on Tuesday in the Group 1 $6.25 million Emirates Melbourne Cup (3200m).
“This is right up there with the best of them [moments in racing],” O’Brien said on Tuesday.
“There is so much more work that goes into training a winner than riding a winner.
“We didn’t have big expectations with this horse to be honest because you need so much to fall into place.”
His father has tried to win the Cup a number of times, but it was first time lucky for O’Brien in the biggest race run on the Australian turf.
On prolific owner Lloyd Williams’ advice, O’Brien brought his progressive High Chaparral entire Rekindling down under for the world’s richest handicap.
Racing as a three-year-old in Europe, the horse did what only Vintage Crop previously had managed, winning the Melbourne Cup first-up without a lead-up Australian start.
It was a long neck victory over stablemate Johannes Vermeer, prepared by O’Brien Snr., and an all-Irish trifecta with the Williams Mullins-trained 2015 runner-up Max Dynamite returning for a third.
The Melbourne Cup quinella was also the first time father and son had prepared the first two over the line.
O’Brien was quick to pay credit to his gutsy lightweight champ with Rekindling carrying 51.5kg to victory as well as the perfectly executed ride from Corey Brown, who had previously won the race in 2009 aboard fellow four-year-old Shocking.
“It was an unbelievable effort by the horse and Corey gave him an unbelievable ride,” he said.
Rekindling has been with O’Brien for only a short time, but the well-bred stayer made a big impression early including his Group 2 Curragh Cup (2816m) win over Wicklow Brave at the start of July.
The final lead-up to Melbourne Cup Day for the horse was at Doncaster in mid-September where Rekindling was beaten only two lengths in the Group 1 ST. Leger (2921m) carrying 57.5kg.
“We only got this fellow at the start of the year and he’s been a very easy horse to train,” he said.
“He started off very early and he’s been busy all year long but he’s got better with all the racing and the further he’s gone, the better he’s got.
“He’s not a big horse and he doesn’t take much work so we’ve just kept him fresh going into his races.
“The lads that have been down here with him for the last few weeks have done a great job with him, as have all the lads at home all year and I’m just so delighted for Lloyd and Nick [Williams] because they’ve been very good to me since I started training.”
Rekindling is majority-owned by Lloyd Williams who celebrated his sixth Melbourne Cup success and back-to-back victories after that of Almandin in 2016.
Williams was full of post-win credit for O’Brien and also was quick to all but rule-out a return shot at the Melbourne Cup in 2018 for Rekindling after watching the defending champion Almandin struggle home for 12th on Tuesday.
“Joseph is going to be one of the leading trainers in the world and I’ve thought so for 18 months,” Williams said.
“What a pedigree he’s got, he’s got a pedigree better than Galileo.”
A shot at the Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup (4014m) at Royal Ascot in Great Britain next June could make a nice target for Rekindling according to Williams.