Was Fergal O’Brien once a jockey?

Nowadays, Fergal O’Brien is a dual-purpose trainer based at Ravenshall Farm in Withington, Gloucester, approximately ten miles from Cheltenham Racecourse. Indeed, O’Brien enjoyed his most successful season so far in 2020/21, saddling 104 National Hunt winners – only Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson saddled more – and amassing over £796,000 in prize money to finish seventh in the trainers’ championship. In fact, at the time of writing, O’Brien already heads the 2021/22 trainers’ championship table, with 51 winners and nearly £350,000 in prize money and has recently joined forces with fellow Gloucestershire trainer Graeme McPherson to create O’Brien McPherson Racing.

Born in Limerick in 1972, into a family with no involvement in horse racing, O’Brien nonetheless harboured the ambition of becoming a jockey. As a teenager, he followed his older brother Brian across the Irish Sea to the yard of Doug Francis, elder brother of Dick Francis, in Malpas, Cheshire. In early 1989, O’Brien completed a nine-week course at the British Racing School and subsequently joined Tim Forster in Letcombe Bassett, near Lambourn, with whom he would spend the next three and a half years. Having discovered that his ambition outweighed his talent, as far a race riding was concerned, O’Brien joined up-and-coming trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies in Naunton, Gloucester, where he remained for the best part of two decades before embarking on his own training career.