Sacramento, CA --- Saturday night’s Joe O’Brien Pacing series finale is named for one of the most successful driver/trainers in harness racing history. He was born in Alberton, Prince Edward Island in 1917 and passed away in 1984.
In total, O’Brien drove more than 4,500 winners and collected more than $20 million in purses. He is enshrined in both the United States and Canadian Harness Racing Hall of Fame and is fondly remembered as “Little Joe”.
“Joe was the master,” said Cal Expo racing secretary Fred Kuebler. “He would jiggle those lines in his hands down the stretch and never even have to use the whip. He and Shelly Goudreau were the two best drivers I’ve ever seen.”
Joe O’Brien first drove a sulky at the age of 13 and continued to race around the Maritimes circuit with his father and four brothers until 1936, when he landed his first job as a trainer. He soon became well versed in the art of training and racing and was the leading driver in the Maritimes from 1943 to 1947, upon which time he moved south to try his luck on the U.S. circuit.
O’Brien’s success over the next three decades was immense. He won three Little Brown Jugs, five Kentucky Futurity races, drove two Hambletonian winners, and became the second man in harness racing history to hit the 2,000-win mark. He was out to beat not only his opponents, but also to challenge time. In total, he drove more than 500 sub-two-minute miles, at a time when that was something special, setting numerous records along the way.
He drove Scott Frost to the world’s first two-minute mile for a 2-year old in 1955, Steady Star to a new mark for the fastest clocking ever by a standardbred in 1971, and Flower Child to the first European sub-two-minute trotting mile in 1975. His fastest season came in 1975, when he drove a world record of 44 sub-two-minute miles and 32 two-minute miles in a single season.
O’Brien drove such fine steeds as Blaze Hanover, Fresh Yankee, and Ambro Flight, but he named Scott Frost as his personal favorite. In 1955, they took the Hambletonian, the Yonkers Trot, and the Kentucky Futurity, making Scott Frost the first horse in history to claim harness racing’s Triple Crown.