Flying Fergal O'Brien revels in first century after emerging from Covid fear
Relief and delight were Fergal O'Brien's overriding emotions after he recorded a maiden century in a season at Kempton on Monday night.
The victory of Oscar Rose in a 2m5f handicap hurdle put the seal on the yard's best campaign by far and the Gloucestershire-based trainer said: "It's a great achievement, but we didn't have a target at the start of the season.
"We lost the first two months of it and this time last year we didn't know what was going to happen. We'd just hit Covid-19 and had an 80-box yard with five horses in it.
"It was all a bit of a worry, but I was lucky I had supportive owners and when the BHA gave us the green light to get started in July we had 25 horses ready to rock on."
Formerly a key cog of the Nigel Twiston-Davies operation, O'Brien started training in 2011 and became a Grade 1 winner in 2017 when Poetic Rhythm won the Challow Hurdle at Newbury.
He has enjoyed a steady rise up the ranks and saddled 63 winners last term, which he has eclipsed in style.
He added: "There were a couple of times in the autumn maybe when we went three weeks and 30 runners without a winner and then they came back again until January, which was a bit slow. But it always is for us, and then February is difficult because it's a short month and it's hard to have a winner in March unless you train in Ireland!
"In November we thought we'd have a good total and since January we've been in good, solid form."
O'Brien's career began next door to Twiston-Davies, but he moved to Ravenswell Farm 18 months ago and has not looked back.
"This was our first full season at the yard and we've got very good facilities, which we can adapt for each horse," said O'Brien, whose partner Sally Randell has played a big part in the success story.
"For instance, we've got a flat three-furlong round gallop, so horses can have an easy time on that and if they're a bit stuffy and fat they can go up the hill three times twice a day."
A teetotaller with a sweet tooth, O'Brien is not daunted by surpassing his fine total next year and has celebrations with his staff planned this weekend, when the 2020-21 jumps campaign in Britain officially draws to a close.
"We'll be up for the challenge and it gives us something to aim for – you've got to try to improve," he said. "On Sunday we'll go to the local pub, the Royal Oak in Andoversford, and do tables of six and take over the place!"
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