Joseph O’Brien, son of the famous Aidan, took over the operations at Owning Hill two years ago and he hasn’t looked back since. Whether it is flat or national hunt, the twenty five year old has all the tools and dedication to be a huge success over both codes, and he has already tasted a lot of success. In 2017, he got his hands on the Melbourne Cup, something his father had tried to do for a couple of decades without success. He won the Irish Gold Cup with Edwulf in 2018 and then went on to win the Irish Derby with Latrobe at the Curragh later on in the year. He is a modern trainer with fresh ideas, he is humble and along with the Joseph O’Brien Racing Club, he is doing his best to attract young blood into the sport. He has an incredible set of juveniles and novices to do battle with at the Cheltenham Festival this year and we will go through them one by one.
ANTEPOST PRICES: Triumph Hurdle (6/4)
After Altior, Sir Erec is now the biggest banker of the week for many and it is no surprise either. Joseph now has a firm grip on the Triumph Hurdle and it will be a huge shock if he doesn’t get the winner of the race. Sir Erec made every yard of the running to see off his stablemate Gardens Of Babylon in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle. A very classy operator on the flat for Aidan O’Brien, which included a third to Stradivarius in the Ascot Gold Cup, you will struggle to see a more physically eye-catching specimen for his age and he could turn out to be an absolutely astounding hurdler. The word “machine” doesn’t get thrown about too often but he certainly looks a machine at this stage of his career and he looks a winner in waiting at the Festival.
ANTEPOST PRICES: Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (7/1), Triumph Hurdle (10/1), Ballymore Novices Hurdle (25/1)
Fakir D’Oudairies has been unbeaten in two runs since joining the O’Brien stable and is now a solid 7/1 contender for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on the opening day of the Festival. The four year old Kapgarde gelding won his maiden hurdle at Cork in good fashion before going on to destroy his rivals in the Grade 2 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham in January. He was backed from 14/1 all the way into 4/1 on the day so the win was certainly no shock to connections. Since then, JP McManus has purchased the horse and you can be sure he paid a hefty price for him. The Triumph Hurdle would have been the obvious target. However, Sir Erec, who hails from the same yard, now looks their main contender for the race so it would be no shock to see this horse line up in the Supreme. It has been a long time since a four year old won the race mind, way back in 1999 when Hors La Loi III won the race for Martin Pipe and AP McCoy.
ANTEPOST PRICES: Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle (10/1), Triumph Hurdle (16/1), Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (33/1)
Band Of Outlaws added his name into the mix of Joseph O’Brien’s Cheltenham Festival hopefuls with an extremely impressive win in the Copier Novice Hurdle at Naas over the two miles. A formerly very useful horse on the flat, he destroyed his rivals but Joseph isn’t getting too carried away with the performance and stated that the pace was a very slow one and he just had a nice run of the race. He also said his most likely target is now the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. Stablemate Konitho, who was sent off 11/10fav for the race, was bitterly disappointing on the day and will need to improve massively to stand a chance next month.
ANTEPOST PRICES: Arkle Chase (4/1), JLT Novices’ Chase (14/1)
Le Richebourg has certainly cemented his place at the head of the Arkle market and he looks the right favourite at this point. This is one of the most competitive Arkle fields we are likely to ever see so it could turn out to be the race of the week if they all get there in one piece. He has been a completely transformed horse since he switched to fences, his only defeat in five starts coming to the hands of Delta Work in the Drinmore Novice Chase. Since that defeat, he has gone on to land a pair of Grade 1’s in very decisive fashion. It is difficult to know how good he actually was for his latest success in the Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown as Knockanuss was an early faller and both Articulum and Paloma Blue were withdrawn from the race. He is a very clever and efficient jumper though and clearly has a huge amount of ability. He must be one of Joseph’s main hopes for the week.
ANTEPOST PRICES: Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle (12/1), Triumph Hurdle (20/1), Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (50/1)
Although Gardens Of Babylon is shorter for the Fred Winter than he is for the Triumph Hurdle, it is more likely than not that he will line up in the Triumph Hurdle. A winner of a juvenile hurdle at Punchestown in December, he went on to chase home Surin at Fairyhouse (beaten a nose) before going on to chase home stablemate Sir Erec in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown. He will do remarkably well to reverse the form with Sir Erec in the Triumph but he deserves to take his chance and if the favourite happens to under-perform, then he has as good a chance as anything in the field. A lively each-way contender for JP McManus.
ANTEPOST PRICES: Champion Bumper (14/1)
Beaten fourteen lengths by Blue Sari on debut at Gowran Park, this Champion Bumper candidate has a lot of work to do to reverse that form with the Willie Mullins horse who has outstanding claims for the race next month. However, he was sent off favourite to win that day and it is easy to forgive a horse a tame debut run. On second start, he was sent off the 6/4 favourite but was brought down turning into the straight for home. He was travelling like a dream at the time and in my view, probably would have won so he was desperately unlucky. He is another with a place chance in the Bumper but Willie has a very strong hand and JP McManus might have a better chance in the race with Andy Dufresne.