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Crambo sets up O'Brien for first Festival triumph

26-December-2023 22:00
in General
by Peter McNeile

It was Sandy Lyle who famously said, The harder I practice, the luckier I get", in response to a questioner's application of luck to a major tournament win. The same epithet could be attached to the latest Gloucestershire winner of a Grade I jumps contest after 6 year old Crambo put himself bang in contention for an open renewal of the Stayers Hurdle at the Festival with a hard-fought win over old guard Paisley Park in Ascot's Long Walk Hurdle on Saturday. 

It would be hard to describe O'Brien's success as overnight. Regulars at Andoversford will remember him saddling runners here and elsewhere from the 2006 season onward, a time when pre-Christmas meetings were all but unheard of, and where field sizes were considerably larger than nowadays. Some 90 or so winners later between the flags, the affable O'Brien is as at home at Paxford as at Ascot, even if his attention is largely focused on the professional game. 

He graduated to the senior ranks in 2011/12, a first full season as a licensed trainer, in which 11 winners from 120 runners illustrated no meteoric rise to the top rank. But success has flowed from application; winners trebled within 2 years, and the latter years have seen him lead the Trainers' Championship in volume and prize money until November, when big money stables come out to play. Last season's 141 winners from 748 indicated an organisation capable of hitting the top rank with better horses. 

A first Grade I came about in 2017, courtesy, appropriately enough, from a horse that had debuted at Andoversford. Poetic Rythmn broke her maiden on the undulations of Andoversford in Spring 2016 before progressing under Rules to win the following year's Challow Hurdle at Newbury in late December. 

Crambo is the product of that graft; a horse owned by two of the largest owners in the game in Chris Giles and Jared Sullivan, and the advent of owners of this calibre is what is changing the dynamic at Ravenswell Farm. Little fish may be sweet, as Arthur Stephenson once said, but Saturday winners are what every trainer craves, that lead to the ability to compete on level terms with Messrs Mullins, Elliott, de Bromhead, Nicholls and Henderson at the Spring festivals. 

Much of the credit for this success can be laid at the door of Chris Coley, now in his seventies, and enjoying the fruits of a lifetime's work in the racing hospitality business. There can hardly be a current owner who didn't buy a Cheltenham Festival table from Chris these past 30 years. Those connections and that lifelong experience and enthusiasm have empowered the younger O'Brien to build a business that is flourishing, and which could take him to the top table, even to a Championship. 


Crambo's win is typical of the stable he represents. The description of his Long Walk finish reports, "Took keen hold, in touch with leaders, headway 2 out, ridden and pressed leader approaching last, briefly disputed lead just after last, led towards finish, gamely". In passing twice winner Paisley Park, he won the race the hard way, setting himself up for a rematch 3 months hence. His victory is emblematic of O'Brien's rise to the top flight: hard graft and application.


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