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Magical Moments

First appeared in the October 2016 issue of
Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder

Quiet Reflection - Niall O'Brien

Quiet ReflectionNiall O’Brien savours his moments of quiet reflection on and off the track. On the track, some have been magical.

Whether or not Quiet Reflection ends the year champion sprinter is likely to be determined at Ascot on QIPCO British Champions Day, but 2016 will always be memorable for the driving force behind her syndicate owners Ontoawinner.

O’Brien has worked hard to make the yellow and white silks a familiar and successful brand, and flying filly Quiet Reflection has taken him and the syndicate to new heights and profile with Group 1 victories in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot and Haydock Sprint Cup.

It’s remarkable how many dads have been cited in this feature when it comes to the first spark of racing interest from an owner of the future, and O’Brien strengthened the trend, saying of his background: “I’ve always been obsessed by horseracing. From a young age it was a sport that captivated my imagination, fuelled by my dad, who took myself and young brothers to Leopardstown, Fairyhouse and Phoenix Park from our south Dublin home.

“I love racehorses first and foremost; they’re the most magnificent athletes and creatures. I keep one of my retired racehorses at home, Quiet Times, and he’s part of the family, he’s an absolute gentleman.

“I love the characters in racing, the theories, the stories and the people behind the stories. I’ve met some great people and they’ve become lifelong friends. Many of my heroes have become my friends and associates.”

He adds: “I’ve worked hard to make Ontoawinner the success story it is, with the help of a fantastic management team. But I still find the success we’ve had, and congratulations that we get, all a bit humbling.”

O’Brien has been an owner for 18 years, over which time he has been involved in 70-plus horses, with more than 130 winners.

He continues: “The yellow and white colours have been going for 18 years under different partnerships I’ve led. I had a lot of success with Kevin Ryan in the early years, when I ran Yorkshire Racing Syndicates; he taught me a lot, we remain good friends and he’s one of Ontoawinner’s trainers now.

“We had great fun and success from 2001 to 2008 with Quiet Times, Up Tempo, Tedstale and Wahoo Sam. Up Tempo was an absolute diamond, nicknamed ‘Cash Machine’ in ourhouse, as every time we needed a payday, Tempo delivered. He gave Neil Callan his first ever 100 winners in a season. Seeing his victory pictured on Neil’s wall in his house in Newmarket gave me immense pride.

“Kevin flew Nina Carberry from Ireland to Chester for a ladies’ race and we landed a nice touch with Tedstale. Quiet Times raced in Dubai for us at the second carnival held – they were really fun times.”

It was the Ryan-trained Dilsaa who provided O’Brien and longstanding racing partner and close friend Simon Bridge with their first winner in July 2001, when scoring at Nottingham under Ollie Pears, who was to become O’Brien’s good friend and trainer.

“Dilsaa was 20-1 but we all really fancied him,” recalls O’Brien. “We felt like kings in the winners’ enclosure and for weeks afterwards; your first winner is a wonderful experience.”

The Ontoawinner brand is the brainchild of O’Brien and his wife Sally and has been going for five years.

O’Brien says: “I’d taken a small break from running syndicates to concentrate on my working career between 2008 and 2010. Once I summoned the energy and funds for a relaunch, I was a lot clearer in what I wanted my syndicates to look like, and what was needed to achieve it.

“I turned to Simon and my much missed friend, the late Alan Vaux. I brought Chris Patten and Ronan, my brother, on board.

Ontoawinner then had a strong, experienced management team. As we grew we brought Steve Bedworth and Jonathan Adams on board for their energy and people skills. It was time to buy the right horse to launch with.”

So who was the right horse?

O’Brien explains: “I’d bought a lot of very sound horses off Tim Easterby and he was the one I trusted to get the Ontoawinner brand rolling. I owe a lot to Tim, who recommended we buy into Fast Shot straight away. He won two days later and went on to win some big Saturday handicaps, and he wasn’t beaten far in an Ayr Gold Cup on unsuitable ground. “I love Tim and his family, they’re a proud racing family and I have a deep admiration for Peter, Tim and Sarah, and the way they go about their business and the way they’ve raised their wonderful family.

“Then it was possibly a case of being in the right place at the right time when Simon, Chris and I visited Karl Burke’s yard looking to buy our second Ontoawinner horse. Karl had just bought a nice Dutch Art yearling colt, who we bought into and we allowed John O’Shea and Wayne Rooney to name him Yourartisonfire. Our first two purchases were very successful and the brand had a platform.”

That platform has been built on, culminating in this season’s triumphs with Quiet Reflection, and there have been plenty of magical moments for O’Brien and his partners.

“We’ve attracted some brilliant owners, they’re patient and knowledgeable,” he says.

“They deserve all the success we’ve shared and will continue to share.

“We’ve had some great fun with Tim, and the owners really enjoy his company. Fast Shot, Flying Pursuit and Sakhee’s Return have given Ontoawinner owners some brilliant days out. “We’ve been extremely lucky with Karl and Elaine Burke from the start of our association – we’ve just clicked as a team.

“We’ve had some cracking fillies for little money, Ticking Katie, Katie’s Diamond and Little Lady Katie have been really lucky for us and for Mark Hulin, who named the fillies after his daughter Katie. Karl is one of the hardest working guys in the sport, supported by a top class family in Elaine, Kelly and Lucy.

“We’ve been ridiculously successful. We won a Mill Reef with Toocoolforschool, and Quiet Reflection, who we bought with Karl at Goffs Breeze Up in 2014, is an absolute phenomenal filly.

“She’s the real deal, having now won the Cornwallis, Prix Sigy, Sandy Lane, Commonwealth Cup and Haydock Sprint Cup.

“Winning the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot is my proudest moment in racing. All the Ontoawinner management team was there. It was the reward for all our hard work and it gave me immense satisfaction that I got to share the day and celebrations with Alan Vaux’s widow Jean. Alan was key to any success our colours have had.

“I was delighted for us and more so for Karl and Dougie Costello, never was a first Group 1 UK success more deserved for a trainer and jockey combination. Quiet Reflection’s carer and work-rider, Jordan Vaughan, is key to her success too. His personality matches hers and they are a deadly duo, going about their work quietly and confidently.”

There could be more to come too, as O’Brien reveals: “We’ve got loads of nice young horses with Karl in an expanding string.

“London Protocol, who we own with the astute Rob McKeown, has been placed in a Listed race, and Parnassian is an exciting youngster coming through.

“We also have horses with Ollie and Vicky Pears, who work tirelessly for their owners. I’ve had five winners with Ollie and have a lot of time for him; he’s shrewd, hard-working and deserves a nice horse. This year we’ve got involved with John Quinn, Adrian Keatley and Ben Haslam, and look forward to having success with them.

“I enjoy the part I play in running the syndicate. The achievements and entertainment the sport has given me far outweighs the hours and effort I have put in to driving the success of the Ontoawinner brand.”

In addition to those hours and effort, there is actually a day job, as O’Brien says: “When I’m not in the Ontoawinner office, I work hard as Operations Manager for Reckitt Benckiser at their Hull manufacturing facility, where we make great brands like Nurofen, Gaviscon and Lemsip. I have an equally fantastic team at RB as I do at Ontoawinner.

 

“Racing is a great release from the pressures of the day job and I switch off by burying my head in Owner & Breeder magazine, the racing programme and sales catalogues. On a bad day I allow myself some quiet reflection, smile, and thank my lucky stars.”

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