British-based Wexford duo harbour high hopes
Two Wexford jockeys who were born quite close together are enjoying great success in Britain. Daryl Jacob and Tom O'Brien have had remarkably similar careers with almost identical statistics this season, and both will be looking for Cheltenham success this week.
However, there was disappointment for O'Brien on Saturday when Finian's Oscar was forced out. Bred by Richard O'Keeffe in Taghmon, this one was trained to win his point-to-point last November by Denis Murphy, The Ballagh, under Jamie Codd and had won three times with O'Brien since going to Colin Tizzard's yard.
Daryl Jacob from Caim is ninth in the British champion jockeys' table on 72 winners, closely followed in tenth place by Tom O'Brien, Adamstown, with 69 winners. Both went to Britain around the same time and both have overcome career setbacks to get back to the top of the tree.
This was typified by the prestigious Imperial Cup hurdle at Sandown on Saturday when the two Wexfordmen battled out the finish, with victory going to O'Brien on Ian Williams' London Prize (10/1) by a length from Jacob on Nicky Henderson's 5/1 favourite, Fixe Le Kap. Saturday was certainly a day of mixed luck for O'Brien.
Jacob is 33 and is having one of his best seasons riding as a freelance in Britain. Up to Saturday, he had one of the best strike rates in Britain at 22 per cent, and his winnings stood at an impressive £581,000, which rises to almost £900,000 if you add in the place money.
He won the Aintree Grand National on Neptune Collonges in 2012 with a fantastic ride, beating Sunnyhill Boy in the tightest finish in the history of the race.
He has had two Cheltenham Festival winners - the Triumph Hurdle in 2011 on Zarkandar and on the last day of the 2014 Festival he won the Vincent O'Brien Hurdle on Lac Fontara.
Jacob was on his way to the post in the following race on Port Melon when he was thrown into a concrete camera position and suffered serious injuries.
He lost his leading rider's post with champion trainer, Paul Nicholls, later in the year but has shown great resilience in the last couple of years and is now riding better than ever as a freelance as his figures illustrate. He has ridden over 630 winners in Britain since going over in 2004.
He is the retained rider for big-time owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede and they provide him with what should be his best chance at this year's Festival - Top Notch in the £150,000 grade 1 JLT Novice Chase on Thursday. This one, trained by Nicky Henderson, has won his last four races.
He also has a chance with Bristol de Mai in an open looking Gold Cup on Friday, and he personally is very keen on Messire Des Obeaux in the opening Neptune Hurdle on Wednesday.
Tom O'Brien from Adamstown went over to Britain around the same time as Jacob after serving his time with Shay Slevin at Kiltrea and with his uncle, Aidan - the master of Ballydoyle. Born in 1986, Tom is son of Aidan's brother, Jim.
He made an immediate impact and was British champion amateur with 32 winners in the 2005 season before turning professional.
He followed this up by winning the conditional jockeys' title with a record 107 winners.
O'Brien was second in the Grand National in 2007 on McKelvey, being beaten by Silver Birch, trained by a very young Gordon Elliott. His only Cheltenham Festival success was on Silk Affair in the Fred Winter Juvenile away back in 2009.
He went though a lean spell for a couple of years but he has really got back on track in recent years. His 69 winners so far this season have earned just over £580,000, amazingly just £1,000 less than Jacob.
He has had over 770 winners in his British career so far.
He had his first Grade 1 success at Sandown earlier this year on Finian's Oscar in the Tolworth Hurdle, and was looking forward to him at Cheltenham.
O'Brien has chances at a decent price this week with the likes of Sizing Tennessee (Tuesday, 5.30 p.m.), Third Intention in the Glenfarclas Cross Country on Wednesday, and Golden Doyen in the Pertemps Hurdle final on Thursday.