Danny O’Brien’s remarkable training career has taken an amazing turn in the past 12 months. From near-decimation following the cobalt scandal of 2015, he is again becoming the hottest trainer in Australia
Buoyed by an incredible Melbourne Cup win with Vow And Declare in November 2019, the O’Brien juggernaut continues to roll on. His gelding Order Of Command won the Listed Wangoom Handicap at Warrnambool on 6 May and is moving up The Goodwood betting markets on 16 May.
O’Brien, 50, has his eyes firmly on a big spring carnival, with horses aiming for Melbourne’s big three spring races – the Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate. Sportsbet is offering futures markets on these major races.
O’Brien remains the only trainer in Australia who can claim to have won all three of Melbourne’s spring majors – that’s something even Chris Waller and Gai Waterhouse can’t put on their CVs.
Danny O’Brien career highlights
Danny O’Brien is an unlikely horse trainer. The son of a doctor, he was educated as a boarder at Xavier College and collected degrees in economics and law at Melbourne University before the racing bug bit him so hard he tossed his hard-earned education for racing’s school of hard knocks.
However, a study of O’Brien’s pedigree lifts the lid on a family steeped in racing, who have combined the best of education with a passion for thoroughbreds. The move from the halls of law to the stables of straw wasn’t such a rash decision.
O’Brien’s father, Peter, moved from Melbourne to settle in Kyabram, where he became a much-loved doctor. Dr Pete’s love of racing stemmed from his father, James O’Brien, a publican who financed his business by running the local SP bookie service and racing a horse or two.
One of those horses, Desert Breeze, was no slouch. He won for Grandpa James a brace of Group 1 Toorak Handicaps in 1952 and 1953.
Peter O’Brien also dabbled in training and owned the good horses Misty Vain and her son Tennessee Jack, who ran sixth for trainer Bart Cummings in the 1993 Melbourne Cup after winning the Group 3 Hotham Handicap at Flemington three days earlier.
It was the experience with Tennessee Jack that sparked young Danny to follow his passion. In his spare time, he did work experience with Cummings and stable foreman Leon Corstens at Flemington. The die was set and he took out his own training licence in 1995, aged 25, with one horse, appropriately named Mad Hatter.
This one horse gave O’Brien his first winner, at Flemington on Boxing Day in 1995.
When David Hall, fresh from training Makybe Diva to win the 2003 Melbourne Cup, took an offer to train in Hong Kong, O’Brien grabbed his 40-box barn on course at Flemington – from where he continues to train, as well as from a magnificently appointed purpose-built complex at Barwon Heads.
O’Brien had a breakout year in 2007, when he trained the winner of the Group 1 Caulfield Cup, Master O’Reilly, and the runner-up, Douro Valley. In 2013, he shocked racing when he won the Group 1 Cox Plate with the three-year-old colt Shamus Award, who was a maiden at the time.
O’Brien’s progression to the top of the training tree hit a snag in 2015 when he was banned by Racing Victoria stewards after some of his horses, and those trained by Mark Kavanagh, showed an elevated presence of cobalt in their system.
After an agonising two-year ban that saw his stable reduced by 80 percent, O’Brien and Kavanagh won their appeal against the ban, and were cleared of by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal of administering cobalt to their horses.
Danny O’Brien statistics
Thinking of a bet on a Danny O’Brien-trained horse? Then keep these key stats in mind.
- Danny O’Brien’s win strike rate this season is 18.2 percent – 80 wins from 440 starters. No leading trainer has a win strike rate like him.
- Danny O’Brien has a strong affinity with champion jockey Damien Oliver, who has an overall strike rate of 18.6 percent on O’Brien-trained horses. This season the strike rate has stretched to 20.8 percent.
- Other jockeys striking hot with O’Brien this season include Craig Williams (19 percent), Damian Lane (30 percent from 30 rides) and Damien Thornton (33.3 percent from 27 rides).
- O’Brien also has an incredible strike rate of 14.1 percent on his home track at Flemington.
Danny O’Brien horses to watch
- King Of Leogrance: Owned by Lloyd Williams, the gelding won the Adelaide Cup in March. Keep an eye on him as he heads for the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups in the spring.
- Flying Award: An exciting colt by O’Brien’s former star Shamus Award. Flying Award’s key spring assignment will be the Caulfield Guineas.
- Russian Camelot: O’Brien makes no secret that this import is a potential star. Russian Camelot is one of the favourites for Saturday’s South Australian Derby in Sportsbet’s betting.
- Miami Bound: She won the VRC Oaks last spring and will be a much more mature galloper on the Caulfield Cup trail in October.
- Vow And Declare: Aiming to be the only the sixth horse to win multiple Melbourne Cups.