Joseph O’Brien

Ireland’s reigning co-champion apprentice Joseph O’Brien has continued to develop as a rider, consistently showing far more polish than one could usually expect from an 18-year-old.

Obviously, as the son of the champion trainer, he has been given many more good opportunities than would usually be the case, but he has never let his supporters down, invariably riding with the reliability and flair of a top senior jockey.

After Joseph had given the 20/1 shot Reply a typically faultless ride to win the Weatherbys Insurance £300,000 Two-Year-Old Stakes on the second day of Doncaster’s St Leger meeting, he confirmed to reporters the impression which his ever-increasing height has been giving all year: that his long-term future lies as a jump jockey.

One might, though, have wondered whether he was being unnecessarily pessimistic, bearing in mind that he rode at 8 stone 12lb when partnering Daddy Longlegs on St Leger day, but the writing could be plainly read on the wall when he put up overweight to ride Athens at 9 stone 3lb at Listowel three days later.

While at Listowel, though, Joseph O’Brien was able to get a good preview of his future career, with the picturesque Co. Kerry town’s popular Festival meeting being one of Ireland’s ever-diminishing number of mixed meetings. He might also have seen a future Grand National winner, with Alfa Beat confirming himself as a likely Aintree type when becoming only the third horse to complete back-to-back victories in the Kerry National, sponsored by Guiness.

What makes Alfa Beat’s feat all the more remarkable is that the grey son of the 1991 Eclipse Stakes winner Environment Friend is still only aged seven so, barring injury, he should still have his best days ahead of him.

Having been trained to win last year’s Kerry National by Charles Byrnes, Alfa Beat was sold at Doncaster’s May Sale, where he was bought by £75,000 on behalf of American owner Irvin Naylor with the specific long-term aim of challenging for the John Smith’s Grand National.

Now trained by John ‘Shark’ Hanlon, Alfa Beat won his second Kerry National in typically game style, thus confirming that he remains an improving horse: he won off a rating of 148, which is 11 pounds higher than the rating which he defied last year and, remarkably, a whopping 62 pounds higher than the rating off which he won his first handicap, a hurdle race at Ballinrobe in April 2009.

After the race, Hanlon confirmed that the John Smith’s Grand National is very much the aim: “We’ll leave him off now and bring him back for a prep run somewhere before Aintree. He jumped super today.”

Grey horses always attract support from Grand National punters; if showing up in similarly good heart, Alfa Beat looks sure to give them a good run for their money.