Tom O’Brien is no stranger to flying under the radar, having spent most of his career as number-two rider to Richard Johnson at Philip Hobbs’ Sandhill Stables.
Watching Johnson, who is second behind Sir Anthony McCoy in the all-time list of winners for jump jockeys, initially inspired O’Brien to join the team, but the move meant playing second fiddle.
While Johnson took most of the limelight with his epic battles to keep pace with McCoy, O’Brien was quietly adding winners of his own, riding over 105 in his best season in 2006-07.
When Johnson announced his retirement earlier this year, O’Brien stepped up into the top job and on Sunday added his name to an illustrious list of jockeys to have ridden 1000 career winners in Britain and Ireland, with victory on Head On at Worcester.
“I’m very proud,” O’Brien told Sky Sports Racing. “I thought it’d just be my wife and I going for a steak dinner after to celebrate, I didn’t realise that it’d make headlines. It wasn’t until then that I really appreciated it.
“It’s all I’ve ever dreamed of to be a jump jockey and I’m delighted to reach that landmark.”
Reflecting on his journey to the top, O’Brien said: “I was riding out for Aidan [O’Brien] and Ballydoyle and always watching jump racing through the winter and was really interested in English jump racing.
Tom O’Brien’s career stats
Winners (GB & Ire) – 1,000
Rides (GB) – 7,484
Win % – 13.35%
Group and Listed winners – 37
Prize money won – £10.3m
“My dad took me over to Cheltenham and I was there for Rooster Booster’s win [2003 Champion Hurdle].
“We got there early every day and I remember watching Richard Johnson and thinking that’s all I wanted to do.
“From day one he [Johnson] has always helped me along and he’s very easy to approach. Any question, any time, even now.
“All the way through he was been helpful, but that’s the man he is.”
It has not always been smooth sailing for the 34-year-old, managing less than 35 winners in his last two full seasons, but he has learned to be patient and trust the process.
Asked if he had ever considered leaving his role with Hobbs, O’Brien said: “I was always very keen to stay because I loved working at Sandhill with all the team.
“My agent Dave Roberts has always done a wonderful job of keeping me busy and satisfied, which wouldn’t have been easy.
“It can be frustrating, very up and down but you’ve got to stick at it. Sometimes it’s hard to see the winners coming but if you don’t turn up then they definitely won’t.”