THE curtain officially comes down on the British Flat season on Saturday with Qipco British Champions Day, where the best are crowned and celebrated for their achievements.
Few have made the impact jockey Donnacha O’Brien has this season. He has three Classics under his belt (2,000 Guineas, Oaks and Irish Derby) and a scintillating Group 1 double on Fairyland and the oh, so exciting Ten Sovereigns. His relaxed and genial attitude has been a breath of fresh air too.
He bids to round off the season with more glory for his father Aidan O’Brien. We spoke to the rider about his years and his prospects on Saturday.
It has been a memorable season for you. Did you ever think it would go as well as it has?
You can never expect things to go as well as they have done this season for me. I set out to ride as many winners as I could and to try and keep improving. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the right position at the right time on a few occasions and I’m very grateful for that. I think I was quite lucky.
Before we talk about Champions Day, can we ask what you have made of Ten Sovereigns?
He’s a very, very exciting horse for next year. He was showing us plenty at the start of the year and then picked up a little injury so had to be left off for a little while. When he came back he never missed a beat and started showing how good he was right from the word go. To do what he did in just over a month was fairly incredible, in my opinion.
You also claimed Group 1 glory on Fairyland. What do you think about her?
She’s a right, proper little filly her. She’s as tough as nails and always tries her best. She’s very uncomplicated and there the sort of horses you love to ride and go to the races with. Hopefully she’s another to get excited about over the winter and we’ll see if we go down the sprinting or the miling route with her next year.
Ten Sovereigns and Fairyland won Group 1s over 6f. Do you think they will stay further or are they sprinters for next year?
You never quite know at this stage but I wouldn’t say they won’t stay a mile. A lot depends on how they mature and what they start to show us at the beginning of next year. We’ll know a lot more about them then and I certainly wouldn’t rule out the Classics.
You landed the Irish Derby on Latrobe in the summer. How are things with him ahead of the Melbourne Cup next month?
He’s down in Australia and he a lovely horse. It was a real buzz to win the Irish Derby on him for Joseph and it’s exciting he’s having a go at the Melbourne Cup. He’s really uncomplicated and stays well. I think he’s quite similar to Rekindling, who won the race last year, and hopefully if that’s the case he should run a big race.
Looking at Champions Day then, what do you think of the day in general?
It’s a great day of racing and there are going to be some really good horses running. I’m looking forward to riding there and hopefully the horses we give the best and the ground is alright for them.
You start off with a ride on Sir Eerc in the Long Distance Cup. Can he upset Stradivarius?
It’s going to be a tough race but I don’t think Stradivarius is unbeatable. He’s unproven on the type of ground we’re going to have at the weekend, and he’s had a long season too. My horse is definitely an improving horse and he’s unexposed. We’re not sure how good he is but if the main horses underperform for whatever reason then hopefully we can get placed.
Your dad runs six in the Fillies & Mares Stakes. How do you rate Hydrangea’s prospects?
They’re nice fillies and it’s great to be going into a race with a good chance. My ride Hydrangea is a tough girl and she has a liking for the track. I’m really looking forward to riding her.
What do you make of the QEII in which you ride I Can Fly?
You have to think Roaring Lion is going to take a lot of beating, but we’ll give it a go. He seems to handle ease in the ground and he has a lot of pace, so the trip isn’t an obvious problem. He’s been very impressive recently. We’ll be riding to finish as best we can and it’d be great to pick up some prize-money.
And, finally, what do you think about your dad’s Champions Stakes contenders?
Capri got injured earlier in the season and is still finding himself. He ran a lovely race in the Arc [when fifth] and while going a mile and a quarter isn’t ideal for him, the ground is a lot slower and that will help him. Rhododendron is a quality filly. Her form in the second half of the season hasn’t been as good as it was at the start, but if she was able to bounce back to form then I think she could be bang there at the end.