Lockdown Lowdown: Joseph O'Brien reflects on his best and worst days in racing

Joseph O'Brien Camelot
Joseph O'Brien wins the Epsom Derby on Camelot
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In the first of a brand new series of Betfair podcasts, Joseph O'Brien talked with Kevin Blake about the highs and lows of his career, with his two Derby winners featuring heavily. Kevin has the details...

"Camelot was bidding to become the first winner of the Triple Crown since Nijinsky in 1970 and was sent off as the 2/5 favourite, but he ultimately came up ¾-length short of Encke in what was a heart-breaking defeat."

Last week I was joined on the phone by Betfair brand ambassador Joseph O'Brien to discuss his five most memorable moments in racing as part of Racing...Only Bettor's new 'Lockdown Lowdown' series. You can listen here.

This sort of interview can often end up being full of banal stock answers, but Joseph ended up going down a number of fascinating rabbit holes that gave a great insight into his approach and execution of some of his best-known performances as both a rider and a trainer.

The two parts of the podcast that stood out to me were when he spoke about his experiences while riding his two Derby winners Camelot and Australia. The two represent fascinating contrasts to each other, with Camelot being the highly-strung son of Montjeu that needed micro-managing in the cauldron of Epsom, whereas the laid-back Australia required a different approach altogether.

For all their differences as individuals, one thing that they had in common is that as well as giving Joseph some of his most memorable days in the saddle, they also gave of him some of his most heart-breaking moments.

Joseph's straight-talking reflections on those bitterly disappointing days makes for captivating listening.

A young man with huge pressure on his shoulders

Camelot was the first to be discussed and the challenges for both the trainer and rider of horses sired by Montjeu were laid out. It was particularly interesting to hear the in-depth details of the micro-management of Camelot's nervous energy in the notoriously-difficult preliminaries for the Derby.

Given that Aidan O'Brien hadn't won the Derby for a decade at that stage and Camelot was the 8/13 favourite, one can only imagine the pressure that all involved were feeling, but they had to hide it as best they could if they were to keep the lid on Camelot.


That was all before the stalls even opened for what is the biggest Flat race of them all around what is perhaps the trickiest Group 1 track in the world. Big-race scenarios don't get much more high-pressure than that. For all that responsibility to rest solely on the shoulders of a 19-year-old once the stalls opened is a weight that few sportspeople will ever feel on them.

St Leger defeat was worst day in racing

While everything went to plan for Camelot and Joseph at Epsom, that wasn't the case in the St Leger as it proved to be what Joseph called by far his worst day in racing.

Camelot was bidding to become the first winner of the Triple Crown since Nijinsky in 1970 and was sent off as the 2/5 favourite, but he ultimately came up ¾-length short of Encke in what was a heart-breaking defeat.

Joseph's dissection of what went wrong, what he might have done differently and how he dealt with a loss that would have shaken the most unshakable of sportspeople makes for riveting listening.

A great amount of regret

Joseph's experiences with Australia make for a similar tale of peaks and troughs. The glory of his Derby and Juddmonte International wins are recalled fondly, but it is their infamous defeat in the Irish Champion Stakes that seems to have stuck with Joseph much more than the good days.

Sent off at 30/100 for what would prove to be the final start of his career, history shows that the race didn't go Joseph's way and they ended up being nailed late on by The Grey Gatsby, with Joseph's ride attracting a great amount of criticism at the time.


Joseph recalled his thought process at every stage of the race and the reasons why he did what he did in the moment he found himself in. He clearly looks back on some of those decisions with a great amount of regret and in contrast with the St Leger on Camelot, he is adamant that if he had done things differently that Australia definitely would have won.

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