Young buck O'Brien makes history again at Melbourne Cup

·4-min read
Jockey Jye McNeil riding Twilight Payment produced a front-running display to win the Lexus Melbourne Cup
Jockey Jye McNeil riding Twilight Payment produced a front-running display to win the Lexus Melbourne Cup

By James Toney

The Melbourne Cup has always been a sporting frontier where only the brave dared to venture and few succeeded - and then there was Joseph O'Brien.

Mobility, optimism, inventiveness and a willingness to accept innovation are defined as the key characteristic of a good frontiersmen - which sort of sums up O'Brien's mercurial approach to his still fledgling training career.

And three years after he became the youngest trainer to win the world's richest handicap with Rekindling, the 27-year old did it again.

Twilight Payment produced a brilliant display of front running as O'Brien scored the fourth ever Irish success in the race, joining Dermot Weld as a two-time winner.

It means father Aidan's wait for the elusive prize continues, once again he settled for second behind his son, a repeat of 2017, as Tiger Moth ran a huge race from an outside stall draw but simply ran out of tarmac to chase down disbelieving jockey Jye McNeil.

Known as the 'race that stops a nation' - instead it was the race that woke O'Brien up, watching back home in County Kilkenny as coronavirus kept racing at Flemington behind closed doors, the colourful, intoxicating - and often intoxicated - crowd instead roaring their encouragement at their televisions.

And O'Brien was the same, a horse named twilight giving him another career highlight before first light.

"I know how lucky I am to be in this position. Dad has won a lot of big races and he'll be as happy for me to have won as I would have been for him," he said, as he gave owner Lloyd Williams his seventh victory in the race.

"You do have to pinch yourself, it's just a privilege to train these horses. It's a tough game but we're just really appreciative and thankful for the chances and support we get.

"Jye gave him a fantastic ride and the guys out there did a top job of looking after him down in Australia for the last month or so. This is just the icing on the cake.

"His form this year was really solid through the summer, he had a huge will to win and never stopped fighting all the year to the line. It's a very special feeling for all the team."

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Twilight Payment, one of five Irish trained horses in the 24-runner field, broke first and confindently swaggered clear of rivals, underlining the hope his trainer had after back-to-back wins at the Curragh this summer.

Sean Corby, who rides him every day at Owning Hill, has also been quietly talking up the chances of a horse who finished just under three lengths off the pace in the Irish St Leger in September.

And the win is also special for Jim Bolger, who bred the horse and trained him until 2019, when the switch was made to Carriganóg Racing.

"This means the world to us, you don't get a feeling better than this right now," said O'Brien's assistant Mark Power, leading the team in Melbourne.

"2017 was special and this is every bit as good, it would have been nice for Joseph and all the guys to be here too but for obvious reasons they are back at home. Don't worry though, we'll celebrate for them alright!"

Luckily for Power and co's party planning, Melbourne has just emerged from one of the world's longest lockdowns, in time for a race that is a national holiday, as well as a national obsession.

And for new Dad McNeil, racing in it for the first time, this moment will take some beating after a textbook ride that delivered to the letter on every racing instruction issued.

“There’s too many emotions, it’s a very big moment," he said. "I’m not worried about the empty grandstands at all, to get the opportunity to partner Twilight Payment, it’s very overwhelming.

“It was the plan to always be forward, obviously with where he was in the market I wasn’t feeling a lot of pressure, but when you have got to go forward there is some pressure to get it right. Thankfully it all came together.

“I was trying to use my voice to encourage him as much as possible to hang on, and he was very tough.”

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O'Brien's other charge, Master of Reality, came home 15th while Willie Mullins's former Cesarewitch winner Stratum Albion placed 20th.

However, the Ballydoyle team suffered the cruellest blow after last year's Derby winner and top weight Anthony Van Dyck suffered a fractured fetlock and had to be euthanised.

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