Joseph O'Brien's grip on juvenile showpiece strengthens as his squad grows
There aren't many trainers with a more enviable hand to play in any Cheltenham Festival race than Joseph O'Brien appears to hold in the Triumph Hurdle.
O'Brien may not have received official recognition for managing Ivanovich Gorbatov to his Triumph Hurdle victory in 2016, but the maestro handler will fancy his chances of getting his name on the trophy for real in March given the growing list of juvenile winners to have emerged from his Owning Hill stables this winter.
After Fakir D'Oudairies, ridden by cousin JJ Slevin, became the trainer’s first official Cheltenham winner on Saturday with a taking performance in the Grade 2 Triumph trial, the pair enjoyed more success on Sunday at Naas with another potential top-notcher in Konitho.
Reflecting on his breakthrough Cheltenham winner Fakir D'Oudairies, a general 6-1 favourite with most firms for the Triumph, O’Brien, who was speaking at Naas said: "I don't know how good a race it was but he's a decent horse I'd say.
"He couldn't have done it any better. He's a nice, good, hardy horse too. I'm very lucky that Guy Cherel decided to send over some of these horses and I’m very fortunate that there's some nice ones there."
Slevin, an integral part of the O’Brien operation, has benefited greatly from the strength in depth within the division and was suitably impressed by the new Triumph favourite Fakir D'Oudairies.
He said: "I didn’t realise how far we’d won on the day. To ride Joseph's first official winner at Cheltenham was particularly nice.
"Further down the line, I think and I hope Joseph will have plenty more Cheltenham winners, so it's nice to be able to say you rode the first of them. The horse was impressive and he has to come into the picture."
Speaking about running plans for Sir Erec, an impressive winner of his maiden hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, and other Triumph candidates Filo D'Oudairies, Gardens Of Babylon and Band Of Outlaws, O'Brien added: "We'll run as many as we can at Leopardstown and there is also a Graded race at Fairyhouse, so we'll see how things are after that.
"The plan is to run Sir Erec in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle. Filo D'Oudairies is also a possible for that. He was very keen over Christmas, but he's a nice horse and hopefully he can settle better next time. Gardens Of Babylon is only 50-50 to run and Band Of Outlaws is unlikely."
Members can read the latest exclusive interviews, news analysis and comment available from 6pm daily on racingpost.com