Day At The Track


01:25 AM 30 Sep 2004 NZST
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Ask someone what Canada is famous for and the answer would probably be hockey players.

In the world of horse racing though, there is well deserved recognition that our country also produces great drivers and jockeys.

Thoroughbred fans everywhere recognise immortals like Ron Turcotte and Sandy Hawley while in standardbred racing names like John Campbell, Keith Waples, and Herve Filion have become legendary both here at home and internationally.

Probably no Canadian deserves honourable mention any more than Joe O'Brien, perhaps the greatest driver and trainer of horses the world has ever seen.

O'Brien was born in Alberton, Prince Edward Island, in the year 1917.

One of four sons of harness racing trainer Henry O'Brien, Joe was introduced early to the sport and began his racing career at the tender age of 16.

Although his devoted mother saw her very bright Joe in the veterinary profession, he saw years of university standing in the way of his first love which was driving horses.

When Joe's father was asked if one of his sons would train a stable of horses for a Mr. William Latta of Hebert, Nova Scotia, Henry said no.

A precocious Joe responded secretly by post to the request and found himself accepting a job as trainer of the Latta Stable. Joe had conveniently forgotten to mention that he was only 19 years of age at the time.

Going public as a trainer driver was a fateful decision that was to see the gold and white colours of O'Brien become famous across North America.

Generally regarded as a master of pace, O'Brien possessed an uncanny sense of timing, and was a keen judge of the capabilities of his horse during a race.

It was a skill that he honed with constant work.

Even in his senior years he was the most sought after driver of time trials at the famous Lexington Red Mile.

His skill with horses he had never seen before made him much in demand as a catch driver, but he was also highly regarded as a trainer, especially fond of the challenging trotting breed.

Among his legions of accomplishments were two Hambletonian wins, five Kentucky Futurities, two International Trots, two Little Brown Jugs and the Canadian Pacing Derby twice.

In all, O'Brien won 4285 victories, but many more are only memories back in PEI before the days of official record keeping.

The greatest of Canadian harness horses and athletes are recognised each year by the prestigious O'Brien Awards; as a tribute to this gentleman who set such high standards for the sport.

But I like to remember Joe O'Brien for one of his famous understatements.

When asked the secret to his success he once said:

"I just made harness racing my one and only goal, and that was the only thing I did or wanted to do. As a result, I probably worked much harder than I should have."

Not many people I know can be accused of that.

For more information please refer to Related Resources.

Courtesy Of Georgian Downs

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