Limerick-born Fergal O’Brien spent 18 years under the auspices of Nigel Twiston-Davies, as head lad, before launching his own training career in 2011. Indeed, alongside his apprenticeship, he pursued a parallel career as a point-to-point trainer, winning the West Midland Area Trainers’ Championship in each of his last four years at Grange Hill Farm.
O’Brien was originally based at Cilldara Stud, a new, purpose-built yard, owned by National Hunt jockey, in Coln St. Dennis, near Cheltenham. He started with 30 or so horses but, in three and a half years, saddled 146 winners, including a remarkable 941/1 across the card treble in November, 2013. Following the victories of Alavarado and The Govaness at the Open Meeting at Cheltenham and Gunner Fifteen at Uttoxeter, O’Brien quipped, “I said to my wife I may as well shoot myself now as we won’t get many days better than this.”
In 2015, O’Brien moved his string back to Upper Yard, Grange Hill Farm, Naunton to become next door neighbour to Nigel Twiston-Davies and has continued to flourish ever since. In 2016/17, he saddled 60 winners and amassed £611,366 in prize money – far an away his best season so far – and, with 54 winners and £575,921 already banked in 2017/18, he’s on course for another personal best.
O’Brien has yet to saddle a winner at the Cheltenham Festival, although Barney Dwan went close when second of 24, beaten 3¾ lengths, behind Presenting Percy, in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle in 2017. However, O’Brien considers Barney Dwan, in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase, to be his best chance of a winner at the Festival once again this year. With a supporting cast that includes Cap Soleil in the Mares’ Hurdle and Colin’s Sister in the Stayers’ Hurdle, the Cotswolds trainer has plenty to look forward to.
One horse that O’Brien suggested worth following in 2017/18 is the 7-year-old Poetic Rhythm, who contested the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2017. The Flemensfirth gelding won the Persian War Novices’ Hurdle on his reappearance at Chepstow, finished third, beaten 2½ lengths and a nose, behind subsequent winners On The Blind Side and Momella in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in November and won the Betfred Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury in December. After the latter success, O’Brien said, “That’s our first Grade 1 and I’m over the moon, obviously.”
Poetic Rhythm has already run in six point-to-point races and will, in time, be a three-mile chaser, according to his trainer. In the meantime, he is likely head back to the Cheltenham Festival for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, for which he is a top-priced 16/1.