Joseph first came to worldwide prominence as a Flat jockey. While his career in the saddle only lasted six-and-a-half years due to the unwinnable battle he fought to keep the weight of his near six-foot frame below nine stone, no rider in the history of the sport has achieved more in such a short career.
Joseph rode his first winner less than a week after turning 16 on Johann Zoffany, trained by his father Aidan, at Leopardstown on May 28th 2009. Despite essentially only riding part-time as he was still attending school, O’Brien was involved in a three-way dead-heat for the title of Champion Apprentice in Ireland in 2010. He claimed that title for himself by a wide margin in 2011 and that was also the year he rode his first Classic winner with Roderic O’Connor winning the Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh. Later that year he became the youngest-ever jockey to ride a Breeders’ Cup winner when partnering St Nicholas Abbey to success in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
As his career progressed, the records continued to fall. In 2012, Aidan and Joseph became the first father-son trainer-jockey combination to win the Derby courtesy of the victory of Camelot. Later that year Joseph was crowned Irish Champion Jockey with 87 winners. In October 2013, Joseph broke a 20-year-old record with a treble at Navan securing his 117th winner of the season, beating the previous record set by Mick Kinane. He finished the 2013 season with 126 winners and retained his Irish Champion Jockey title.
For all those records, Joseph’s lasting legacy in the saddle will be his Group 1 wins, with him riding 31 such winners all over the world during his short career. The highlights were the Derby (twice), the St Leger, the 2000 Guineas, the Irish Derby (twice), the Breeders’ Cup Turf, the Grand Prix de Paris, the Dubai Sheema Classic and three consecutive renewals of the Irish 2,000 Guineas.
It was at the end of the 2015 season that it became apparent that Joseph was not going to be able to maintain the extreme lifestyle he had to lead in order to make the weight required to ride on the Flat. His retirement was confirmed in the spring of 2016, but the next chapter of his racing life had already commenced, as he had been combining his riding with training a string of horses from Carriganóg Racing on Owning Hill for a number of years. Indeed, Joseph was responsible for the training of Ivanovich Gorbatov when that horse won the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival under Aidan’s name in 2016.
Joseph was officially granted his license to train in June 2016 and made a quite remarkable start, saddling four winners on his first day with runners, including winners ridden by his siblings Donnacha and Sarah, with Ana finishing in the frame on one too. His dream start continued when just a few months later he saddled his first Group 1 winner courtesy of Intricately who was ridden to success in the Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh ridden by Donnacha and bred by his mother Annemarie. Indeed, Joseph’s early years as a trainer in particular were notable for the contribution of his siblings to his success, with Donnacha, Sarah and Ana riding a substantial amount of winners for him and Annemarie providing a great amount of winners to him as a breeder which very much continues to this day.
Joseph has continued to make relentless progress since that memorable first day with runners as a trainer, with his tally of winners both on the Flat and over jumps increasing markedly in 2017. A wonderful year was capped in the best possible style by the remarkable win of Rekindling in the Melbourne Cup at Flemington in November, a feat that generated headlines all over the world and announced Joseph’s arrival as an international force in Flat racing, he was also the youngest trainer ever to win the Melbourne Cup at 24 years old.
The 2017/18 National Hunt season saw him reach more milestones, with him training his first Grade 1 winners since taking out his license during the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown courtesy of Tower Bridge in the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle and Edwulf in the Irish Gold Cup.
Joseph officially got off the mark at the Cheltenham Festival when the JJ Slevin-ridden Band Of Outlaws won the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the meeting in 2019 and a second winner came in the final race of the Festival with Early Doors in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.
Joseph enjoyed one of his biggest home successes as a trainer when Latrobe won the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh under Donnacha.
Eight years after he became the youngest jockey to win a Breeders’ Cup race, Joseph became the youngest trainer to enjoy success when Iridessa won the Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita in 2019. That win made Joseph only the second person, only with Freddy Head, to ride and train a Breeders’ Cup winner. On the same day as his Breeders Cup success Joseph also enjoyed a winner in Australia and a little closer to home at Down Royal, winning three races on three different continents in 24 hours. By the end of 2019, he had saddled 195 winners under both codes during the calendar year.
While the Covid-19 crisis rocked the world in 2020, Joseph carried on his relentless rise up the worldwide training ranks. A memorable weekend in September saw him saddle his first British Classic winner when Galileo Chrome got his head in front in the St Leger at Doncaster under Tom Marquand. The following day, Joseph saddled another Group 1 winner in Thunder Moon who showed a lightening turn of foot in the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes at the Curragh during Longines Irish Champions Weekend. It was a particularly sweet victory as the winner was also bred by Annemarie O’Brien.
Later that year, despite all of the difficulties of travelling to Australia during the pandemic, the O’Brien team headed by Mark Power still made the trip with four horses to try and win the Melbourne Cup. Remarkably, Twilight Payment made all the running and crossed the line in front of the eerily empty grandstand to give the Williams family their record breaking seventh winner of ‘the race that stops a nation’.
The story of 2021 was one of continued international success. Baron Samedi enjoyed a successful stateside raid when winning the Belmont Gold Cup in June, but the star of the show was the remarkable State Of Rest. The son of Starspangledbanner first shot to prominence when winning the Saratoga Derby Invitational in America in August, after which his connections gamely committed to aiming him at the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley in Australia despite the introduction of arguably the toughest veterinary entry protocols in the history of the turf. State Of Rest came through all of them and on a never-to-be-forgotten day in October he won the Cox Plate by a short-head from the Australian champion Anamoe. He had to survive a length stewards’ inquiry, but duly did so to make the victory official. There was wonderful symmetry to win too, as he was ridden by the Irishman Johnny Allen who had once worked on Owning Hill for Joseph’s grandfather Joe Crowley.
Joseph had started to reduce the number of National Hunt horses in his care since 2020, but few would have noticed as the big-race winners continued to come. 2022 started on a great note in that regard with Joseph returning to the Cheltenham Festival winner’s enclosure courtesy of Banbridge in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. His star jumper Fakir D’Oudairies also got in on the act by winning the Melling Chase at the Aintree Grand National for the second consecutive year.
Mind, the focus soon returned to the Flat with a bang as State Of Rest made a glorious return to Europe by beating the best horses in France in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp in May under Shane Crosse. As great as that victory was, it was exceeded the following month when State Of Rest made every inch of the running to win the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot with Shane Crosse again in the saddle. That gave Joseph his first winner at the Royal meeting after a succession of frustrating defeats in previous years, but what a way to break his Royal duck!
Another strong year in 2022 was closed out with the impressive victory of Al Riffa in the Vincent O’Brien National Stakes at the Curragh on Irish Champions Weekend under Dylan Browne McMonagle. At the conclusion of the year, Joseph had trained 127 winners on the Flat.