O'Brien Breaks Record with 92nd Winner ; RACING
McGrath, Chris, The Independent (London, England)
It did not feel especially like history in the making, with just a few hardy spectators huddled round the winner's enclosure, hunched into hats and scarves as a stray flurry of snowflakes tumbled through the wind. And that suited Tom O'Brien just fine.
His lack of airs and years have together made O'Brien diffident of the status his talent demands, but not even he could efface his achievement here yesterday. As his 92nd winner of the season, Lincoln's Inn took him past the record for a conditional rider set by Joe Tizzard in 1998-99.
Still only 20, the Irishman is an overnight sensation by any measure, never mind that his emergence happens to coincide with perhaps the most competitive epoch in National Hunt history. But his unprecedented ascent will not make him giddy. His horror of complacency promptly spurred him to a treble, at combined odds of 383-1. And he will point warily not only to the subsequent stagnation in Tizzard's career, but also to the example of his uncle, Aidan, self-effacing throughout as the young lion of his own profession.
His father, Jim, has a senior role at Ballydoyle and that enabled O'Brien to gallop aristocratic thoroughbreds there even as an adolescent. He joined Philip Hobbs at 17, and by the time Paddy Brennan left to ride for Howard Johnson last summer, O'Brien had shown enough to take over as understudy to Richard Johnson. And while Johnson himself seems doomed never to break Tony McCoy's monopoly, the ironic possibility persists that his deputy may one day do so.
"Tom could certainly be champion some day," Hobbs said after greeting O'Brien and Lincoln's Inn. "Obviously he's only a young lad still, and there's a long road ahead. But he's very dedicated, and improving with experience. Mind you, he has been very good right from the start. It was a big plus for him, to have that early experience at Bally-doyle. It's one thing to have the natural ability, but because of that grounding from his dad and uncle, he also understands the job inside out. And the great thing is that he will keep his feet on the ground. He's the last thing from cocky, a bit shy if anything, and he's still coming into the yard every morning."
O'Brien was certainly not preening himself over his new record. "I've no huge ambitions," he protested. "You never know what the next day may bring in this game. It's just a case of keeping a rhythm, and taking things as they come. But it would be nice to get a good summer again, as a base, because things get a lot more competitive during the winter. …