O’Brien claims Fred Hoysted Medal

By Andrew Mole

KYABRAM’S Danny O’Brien has crowned the best season of his racing career with the prestigious Fred Hoysted Medal for Victoria’s most outstanding trainer of the 2019/20 season.

It was a season of massive firsts for the Flemington/Thirteenth Beach/Geelong-based trainer, with his 100 winners (at a strike rate of 17.7 per cent) including his first Melbourne Cup with Vow and Declare.

In the previous season he notched up 62 winners at 15.5 per cent.

And O’Brien declared this week to the Kyabram Free Press he had set his cup star for a shot at back-to-back cups, joining the most rarefied of heights in Australian racing.

He also had eyes on other horses in his team — especially Russian Camelot (SA Derby winner) and King of Leogrance (Adelaide Cup) — joining their stablemate on that first Tuesday in November.

“We have set Vow and Declare for the $750,000 group one Makybe Diva Stakes over 1600m on September 12 as her spring comeback,” O’Brien said.

“We’ve got some brilliant people working with the horses and also some brilliant people working in the business, particularly my general manager Matt Harrington and my assistant trainer Ben Gleeson, as well as all the other people that are getting up every day and making sure we can train as many winners as possible,” he said.

“For the whole industry to be able to keep going through COVID-19 has been such a bonus for us all.

“Although we have a large staff and a lot of horses in work, about 99 per cent of what we do is done outdoors. All the team are wearing masks and taking all the necessary precautions — as our whole industry is.”

The Hoysted Medal, Victoria’s premier award for trainers, was given a major overhaul this year — moving from the most impressive single training performance of the season to a criteria recognising a Victorian-based trainer who demonstrated excellence across the season.

Trainers were judged on their performances on the track including feature wins, strike rate and training feats, as well as their overall contribution to the industry throughout the 12-month period.

Racing Victoria said O'Brien's engagement with a broad range of media and his behind-the-scenes social media content documenting the campaigns of Vow And Declare and Russian Camelot were among his contributions to win praise from the judging panel.

“The one thing you learn very quickly when you win a Melbourne Cup is that it really is the people’s cup, everyone in Australia seems to have a stake in it and I still can’t believe the number of congratulations we have received from overseas, from people you know and even ones you don’t,” O'Brien said.

“It’s always nice to be recognised with an award, just as it has been great having our first Melbourne Cup winner.”

When O’Brien brought his family and his Melbourne Cup back to his hometown last December he was surrounded by fans — young and old — all wanting to have their photo opportunity with the training superstar and/or his Melbourne Cup.

The next big challenge will be to lock in superstar jockey Craig Williams, who rode Vow and Declare to victory in the 2019 cup.

“He will be on board for the Makybe Diva and hopefully agree to ride her in the Melbourne Cup as well,” O’Brien said.