WHEN the sun shines over Owning Hill, there can’t be many more racing settings on Earth that present a finer sight.

It’s an hour and 45 minutes down from a dark Dublin and by the time you’re in Piltown, it’s fully bright at 7:45am. It wouldn’t have been like that last week but now the clocks have gone back, the Irish Lincoln has been run and today the talk is of classic contenders.

Joseph O’Brien leads three SUVs up towards the famous hill.

“That little building we just came out of - Mam and dad used to live there and I think I was here until I was four, when we moved to Ballydoyle,” he tells us.

Not only is this place a stunning spectacle, but it’s steeping in racing history. Joseph’s grandfather Joe Crowley was the first to train here. Then his mother Annemarie and his father Aidan, who both won National Hunt trainers championships from these grounds. Then his aunty Frances took the reins, sending out a classic winner when Saoire took the 2005 Irish 1000 Guineas.

And yet with much due respect to his family members before him, Joseph has taken success on the Hill to another level - Cheltenham Festival winners, classic winners and international Group 1 winners.

A world-class training facility now has a worldwide outlook and the current owner base is evidence of that. They come from lands far, far away to have their horses trained on the top of this hill in south Kilkenny.

The outrageous thing is just how fast this project has developed. Joseph isn’t yet close to 30, which is the equivalent of a teenager when you’re training racehorses. And he’s only getting bigger. Last season was his best for a tally of winners - 124 in Ireland. There was also a Cox Plate, a Pretty Polly and a Saratoga Derby. But the potential remains as high as ever, for new lands to conquer and new totals to be surpassed.

“It’ll be hard to match last year - numerically we had a great year, but sure what can you do only go for it,” he says. “We were probably a little bit unlucky with some of our principle horses that probably would have raced the last couple of years, the likes of Galileo Chrome and Pista, and a couple of other good horses that finished their careers early after a few hold-ups. So we have been a bit light in the older horse division in the last couple of years but hopefully this year we’re a little bit stronger.

“Obviously State Of Rest is the main one. We’re looking at the Ganay and Mooresbridge for him, and then possibly on to the Tattersalls Gold Cup, we’ll see what the ground is like.”

He’ll be joined by other older horses like Thunder Moon, Master Of Reality, Gear Up and Baron Samedi. Among the classic generation, there’s the fillies Agartha, Velocidad, Tranquil Lady, Seisai, Above The Curve and promising colts Swan Bay, Buckaroo, Vega Magnifico and Hannibal Barca.

Then, there is “around 80 or 90” juveniles, of which the first cohort are set to be rolled out in the coming weeks.

Also you forget that O’Brien has remained a significant power on the jumps scene, despite his own suggestion that he would be phasing out of the code. He tipped-toed his way in and out to Cheltenham yet still left with another Festival winner in Banbridge.

“I think we had one of our best years with the jumpers,” O’Brien says with a laugh when asked if he sees himself as a dual-purpose trainer. “I won’t have a lot of jumpers for the next few years. Like we had a good summer last year but a lot of those horses left and were sold on. I think we have 20 jumpers at the moment.

“I don’t believe that, on a big scale, you can do both of them (flat and jumps) without them having a little impact on each other. We have a big number of stables here and I didn’t want to build any more. You have to concentrate on one or the other then and obviously I grew up with flat racing and it makes a lot more sense to have flat horses.”

A full-force Joseph on the flat racing scene is a frightening proposition for his trainer colleagues and it’s hard to see anything but another huge season for the horses on the Hill.

Older horses

Gear Up

4yo b c (1141/5054-)

Teofilo - Gearanai

He has been working nicely and will probably start off in the Alleged Stakes. He didn’t fire last year but he had a bit of an injury and he was a very good two-year-old for Mark Johnston the year before - he won a Group 1 for him. We’re happy with what we’ve seen so far.

Master Of Reality

7yo b g (10/25105-)

Frankel - L’Ancresse

He has had an extended break after last season. His form tailed off a bit towards the end of it so I’m not sure where we’re going to go with him but he’ll have all those staying races on his agenda. We might go back to Down Royal for that race he won last year. He’s a grand horse. He’s slightly unlucky not to be a Melbourne Cup winner actually but he’s been a great servant - a multiple stakes winner. He is getting a bit older now but hopefully he can go well again this year.

Patrick Sarsfield

6yo b g (22490-4)

Australia - Ultra Appeal

He ran okay on his comeback at Naas and we’ll probably go for another group race over nine or 10 furlongs and we’ll take it from there.

Powerful Aggie was really progressive for O'Brien last season and looks set up for another big season \ Healy Racing

Powerful Aggie

4yo b f (434145112-)

Protectionist - Papagena Star

She might run in a mile-six-furlong race for fillies at Leopardstown. She is an insignificant enough filly to look at but really she just improved all year. I think she was slightly unlucky not to win the November Handicap on her final run. Getting blacktype will be the main objective for her.


4yo b g (0413546100-)

Buratino - Snap Alam

We’re looking at the Gladness for him if the ground is soft. Seven furlongs and soft ground are the condfitions we want for him. He was a good servant to us last year. We ran him over all sorts of trips and might have been a bit hard on him but in fairness he always ran his race.

State Of Rest

4yo b c (5435/311-)

Starspangledbanner - Repose

He is probably our flagship horse for the year. We’re looking at the Ganay or Mooresbridge, we’ll see what the ground is like, and then the Tattersalls Gold Cup. I think it’s fair to say that he might just be a little underrated in this part of the world because he done all his winning abroad last year. We were training him for the Guineas but he had a little setback so that’s why you didn’t see him in the spring. He then won in America and went down to Australia to win the Cox Plate - the horse he beat there won a Group 1 last week by six and a half lengths, absolutely bolted in.

To win the Cox Plate is huge - that is the big race for 10-furlong horses in Australia. Hopefully he can be competitive at all the big races over that distance here. If he is competitive in either of those Group 1s we have in mind for him coming up, the season nearly maps itself out - you have Ascot, York, Sandown. He also has American options and Australia. He has been bought by an Australia stud farm, Newgate, so it would be likely that he’ll end up in Australia in the autumn again.

State Of Rest (near) winning the Cox Plate. the four-year-old is set for a big campaign this term \ Moonee Valley \ Reg Ryan /Racing Photos)

Thunder Moon

4yo b c (072090-20)

Zoffany - Small Sacrifice

The aim is to win a Group 1 with him. I think seven furlongs is his trip. He was unlucky not to win a Group1 last year in France. I think I’ve probably got his conditions wrong a few times - I’ve tried to sprint him and tried to go a mile. If you look at all his runs at seven furlongs, they’re much better than his form at other trips so I think it’s fairly obvious that is his trip now.

Twilight Spinner

4yo b f (3112-)

Twilight Son - Spinatrix

She ran well on her only run for us when she was second to Art Power in the Renaissance Stakes. She is a nice filly and we’re starting her tomorrow at Cork in a listed race that looks very hot. We’ll see how she does and take it from there but we’d be hopeful she is a filly who can hold her own in at least group class sprints. It can be hard for those sprinting fillies - they have to take on the colts.


4yo bb g (11212814-)

No Nay Never - Roselita

He might run in the Alleged Stakes. He was good last year, progressed away and ran very consistent. He might even run in a premier handicap again, he’s rated 102, so we’ll see how he goes.


Above The Curve

3yo b f (3-)

American Pharoah - Fabulous

She ran once last season and did well to be third in a Leopardstown maiden. She is a nice filly and she’ll go for a maiden soon. We’d be hopeful that she can make up into a stakes filly.


3yo b f (33221124-)

Caravaggio - Arya Tara

She starts off today in the 1,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown. She won over the course and distance last year and in all she was a good filly for us, when she was just touched off in the Moyglare. We’ll see how she does today but we’re probably looking at the Curragh instead of Newmarket for her.

Brasil Power

3yo b c (2321-)

Dark Angel - Venturous Spirit

He runs today in a handicap at Leopardstown. He has been working nicely since he arrived to us (from George Boughey). The owners (Amo Racing) were keen to have all of his options open this weekend - he was entered for the Guineas Trial and Ballysax - and he is working like a nice horse and he looks progressive.


3yo b c (3164-)

Fastnet Rock - Roheryn

We’ll see how he goes today but we’re keen to go down the Derby path with him. He got himself into a bit of trouble for his last two runs last season by being a bit lackadaisical early in the race. In France (Criterium de Saint-Cloud), it was a shocking messy race and he was last for most of it and he stayed on well but it was just too late. That is something that hopefully has left him with maturity. His dam stayed well when she raced for Johnny Murtagh - she won over a mile and six - so that gives him a good chance of staying. He probably wouldn’t go much further than a mile and a half. He is a huge big horse and he always looked like he’d be a better three-year-old. Hopefully he breaks well enough this year so that he can give himself a chance.

Buckaroo is going down the Derby trial route \ Healy Racing

Hannibal Barca

3yo b c (312-)

Zoffany - Innocent Air

He’ll probably go for the Tetrarch (Curragh, May 2nd) I’d say and then we’ll take it from there. That will give him a chance to emerge as an Irish Guineas horse. He’s probably going to be a 10-furlong horse in time, he wasn’t beaten far in the Vertem Futurity. We’ll go to the Curragh and see what happens from there.


3yo b f (313143-)

Gleneagles - Lillebonne

She is a good solid filly and she ran well in a lot of good races last season, including one at Leopardstown, where she starts today. She goes well.

Swan Bay

3yo b c (214-)

Australia - Similu

He won his maiden nicely at Galway and then ran well when he was fourth in the Beresford. We think he is a horse to stay well. He’s in at Leopardstown today so we’ll how he goes and take it from there.

Tranquil Lady

3yo ch f (812-)

Australia - Repose

She is a nice Australia filly who won her maiden nicely last season. She finished second in a listed race at the Curragh (Staffordstown Stakes) where she probably was just beaten by a quicker filly in Paddy Twomey’s Limiti De Greccio but I’d say that was good race. She’ll probably go for an Oaks trial - something like the Salsabil or the Blue Wind.

Vega Magnifico

3yo ch c (3-)

Lope de Vega - Hit The Sky

He only ran once last season when he was third at Naas but he goes well now and we’ll look for a maiden for him in the coming weeks. He has a nice pedigree and could be one of our better three-year-old maidens.


3yo ch f (110-)

Gleneagles - Astrantia

She is not the soundest filly in the world so we had to pick our spots with her last year but she won the Group 2 (Airlie Stud Stakes) in good style at the Curragh. I’m not really sure what her trip is going to be. She shows plenty of speed but if you looked at her on paper you’d say she is going to be a mile-and-a-quarter filly - I’m not sure she will go that far, but I haven’t decided what her best trip will be yet. I’m toying with the idea of starting her at seven and maybe even sprinting with her.


We have about 80 or 90 two-year-olds altogether and then we’ll see what happens at the breeze-ups. I think I have nice two-year-olds. I probably don’t have 30 five-furlong two-year-olds so it might take us a while to really get going but I’ve plenty of six- and seven-furlong types and those races are just around the corner.

Of the more forward ones, I have an Exceed And Excel (Excelia,ran in Dundalk yesterday) and the first colt I’m going to run is a Zoustar, called Alexis Zorba. I have a Starspangledbanner colt called Vanguard Star, who is a half brother to King’s Field who was a nice horse I had here previously - he goes nicely. I have a Belardo colt that goes well, he’s out of Prudent Approach. I have a Starspangledbanner filly that is going well and also a U S Navy Flag filly that goes well. I have a Sioux Nation filly that goes well called All Things Nice.

I have a Saxon Warrior filly (unnamed) who is a sister to Magnanimous and Seisai and she is going well. There is also a full brother to Crossfirehurricane called Gimme Shelter.