James O’Brien and his mother Tanith are determined to continue the good work of long-time Lauriston Farm principal Kevin O’Brien, who passed away in May, and ensure the farm at Corinella, south-east of Melbourne, is able to negotiate its way through the complicated COVID-19 period.
A significant boost to spirits in uncertain times has been the emergence of yet another star racehorse in the distinctive green and orange colours of Lauriston Farm. The John McArdle-trained 3-year-old Hydro Star takes on stakes company for the first time on Saturday in the G3 Vain S. at Caulfield.
A $15,000 yearling purchase through the Inglis Classic Sale from the draft of Holbrook Thoroughbreds, the O’Briens had initially intended to send the colt through the Inglis Ready 2 Race Sale last October, but such was his talent, that he forced them to change their minds.
“I was really impressed with the horse. He was a nice walker, had nice conformation, and we just liked him, plus he was cheaper than we expected,” James O’Brien told TDN AusNZ.
Above: Hydro Star as a yearling
“He was broken in, we pre-trained him and set him for the Ready 2 Race. What we tend to do, is we pair them up, as opposed to running them individually. Those young ones like to be with another horse.
“We took them to Pakenham just to give them the experience on the float and at the racecourse and we paired him up with a horse and he beat him quite impressively.
“That would have been September last year, so we had an inkling then that we had a good horse.”
James and Kevin, along with Warren Diggles were impressed by what the Headwater colt was able to do, but wanted to see the 2-year-old colt again to check their assessment of him.
“We breezed him up at Cranbourne and he ran the fastest time prior to lunchtime when they rolled the track. Once again, we put him with our fastest horse and he beat him again. We then decided that he’d pulled up so well, we’d take him to a trial,” he said.
“We put him with our fastest horse and he beat him again. We then decided that he’d pulled up so well, we’d take him to a trial.” – James O’Brien
“We had done that the previous year with a horse called Wellington, which we ended up selling to Hong Kong. He’s now a rising star over there, having won three races.
“John McArdle and Jamie Mott had told us not to sell Wellington, because he was such a good horse. But we did sell him. With that in mind, we gave them this horse, and they came back and said he might be better than Wellington, please don’t sell him!
“Dad, myself and Warren were talking and thinking that he was a bit special, we decided to keep him, with a mind that we might get an offer from Hong Kong. But he kept impressing us every step he took.”
A Star on the rise
Early 2-year-old promise is one thing, but it was clear to everyone involved with him that this colt had something special about him.
“The way John McArdle talks about this horse, I have never had a feeling on a young horse like him before,” O’Brien said.
Unfortunately, Kevin O’Brien never got to see Hydro Star reach the track, but he did have a significant impact on him which has added an extra degree of poignancy as Hydro Star embarks on his racing career.
“Dad named the horse, it was the last horse he named before passing,” James said.
Hydro Star debuted at Sandown last month, and while both O’Brien and McArdle admitted some pre-race nerves, he lived up to favouritism, winning by 2l over 1000 metres, after charging home from midfield.
“In the end, he is still green and when he got to the horses in front, he switched off a bit and Jamie got his mind back on the job,” he said.
“Jamie Mott has been great with the horse and we will need a crowbar to get him off him. He knows the horse and he knows what he has got and he knows that he is still new and that’s why it is good to have Jamie on him.”
Hydro Star returned to Lauriston for a short let-up between runs, spending some time on the beach and creating his own little buzz around the place. O’Brien said the excitement around him is almost palpable.
“It’s special, I just wish Dad was here to enjoy it with us. Hopefully he does take us on ride. It’s a bit emotional,” he said.
“It’d be great if he could step up. We all think he is going to be a better autumn horse than a spring horse. He is just going to keep maturing and we will see how far he goes in the spring.”
Foals give Lauriston a lift
Hydro Star’s emergence comes off the back of some very positive results for Lauriston at the Inglis Australian Weanling Sale last month, which included the sale topper, a Not A Single Doubt filly, who sold for $280,000 to Suman Hedge Bloodstock and Grant Bloodstock.
“We normally sell yearlings, but this year we decided to send all our foals to sale as weanlings. We were pencilled in for the Great Southern Sale, but because of everything that has happened, we took the earlier option to send them to Sydney,” he said.
“We were pleased to sell the top lot there, all 10 of them sold and we topped the averages, so the Victorians did alright in Sydney!”
Above: Not A Single Doubt x Rhodamine (filly)
O’Brien admits that in a time of such market uncertainty, there is a lot of decisions that need to be made on the fly, and sometimes, you are just hoping you pull the right rein and make the right call.
“A lot of the decisions you make are the wrong ones, but on this particular occasion, we pulled the right one by opting to sell in Sydney rather than sell online,” he said.
“A mate of Dad’s came over the other day and said to me that maybe Dad’s gone to that thoroughbred part of heaven and is looking down on us, and you’d like to think that’s true.”
Victoria soldiers on
As President of Thoroughbred Breeders Victoria, O’Brien has seen close-up the effort that has gone in to get racing going in the state, despite the recent COVID-19 outbreak, which prompted a Level 4 shutdown of the state.
“It’s been fantastic that racing has continued. Our Racing Minister, Martin Pakula, has done a wonderful job. He communicates regularly with Racing Victoria and as the President of the Breeders’ Association, I have been part of regular meetings and to have kept racing going is all credit to RV and Martin Pakula,” he said.
“The whole industry participants, what they have done to keep us as an industry vibrant, is absolutely magnificent.”
“The whole industry participants, what they have done to keep us as an industry vibrant, is absolutely magnificent.” – James O’Brien
However, he does believe the most challenging time for those in the breeding industry is coming up in the next few months.
“It’s a very difficult period for the breeding industry now, and while it’s important that we are recognised as an essential business and are able to move our horses and get them bred, the opportunity to sell them becomes much harder if you can’t have people on the farm to sell them to,” he said.
“This is the time of year where foals are starting to arrive and mares need to be covered and service fees need to be paid. The cash flow implications of those service fees is hard-hitting on those farms who aren’t able to get results in the sales ring.”
Article courtesy of Bren O’Brien TDN