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Joe O'Brien (1917-1984)

Born June 26, 1917 in Alberton, P.E.l., Joe O'Brien was perhaps the greatest driver and trainer of harness horses the world has ever seen. Son of Harry O'Bnen, Joe (along with brothers Claude, Lloyd and Ray) were introduced to the sport of kings at an early age. He won his first race at the Summerside track in 1933, at age 16, with a horse called "Mickey Mouse" who was owned by the father of John (the Realm) McNeill.

He went on to win the British Consols trophy, awarded to the leading driver at Old Home Week in Charlottetown, on numerous occasions in the 1940's until he left for greener pastures in the U.S.A. in 1947.

As a driver, he won 4,285 races and money earnings of 20.4 million. Also an expert trainer and conditioner of horses, his vast experience in the sport made him an astute judge of racing talent as well. Although he left Canada and made his home in California, O'Brien maintained close ties with Canadian horsemen. He trained and drove some of the Armstrong Brothers' finest race horses for some 15 years. That association prompted a tribute from Dr. Glen Brown, the farm manager for the Armstrongs. Said Dr.Brown: "The most remarkable thing about Joe was his competitive nature on the race track. He was a different man out there. He drove every race to win, asking no quarter and expecting none. Nobody was his friend in the bike."

It was generally agreed that no driver in history ever had a greater sense of timing and knowledge of how much horse he had left. Horsemen paid him the highest compliment of all by saying he drove like he had a stopwatch in his head. Even in his senior years, O'Brien was the most sought after driver for time trials at Lexington, Kentucky.

Joe always remained loyal to Scott Frost, the 1955 triple crown trotting champion, as his favorite horse of all time. For the Armstrong Brothers, Joe handled Armbro Flight, the Roosevelt International winner in 1966 and the champion of the Dexter Cup and Kentucky Futurity in 1955. He gained widespread stature with the superb mare, Fresh Yankee, the Roosevelt International winner in 1970 and the sport's first million dollar winner who went 62 races without ever being worse than second place.

In all, O'Brien won the Kentucky Futurity five times, captured the Hambletonian twice, winning with Blaze Hanover in 1960 after Scott Frost's triumph five years earlier. He first claimed the Little Brown Jug in 1958 with Shadow Wave and then repeated the feat in 1973 with Melvin's Woe. His major Canadian triumphs included the Queen City Pace, Maple Leaf Trot and Provincial Cup twice each along with the Canadian Pacing Derby with Horton Hanover in 1970 and the Canadian Trotting Classic with Ima Lula in 1977. Some of the other great horses O'Brien was associated with included Armbro Jet, Armbro Ranger, Dream of Glory, Flower Child, Governor Armbro, Legend Hanover, Armbro Nesbit, Diamond Hal, Flight Director, Storm Damage and Sunbelle. O'Brien proved his ability as a trainer quite early in his career when he took Dudey Patch, a broken-down 11 year old and turned him into a Canadian champion.

The late Johnny Conroy was Joe O'Brien's boyhood idol. "Johnny was a great help to young people, myself included," O'Brien told Margaret Neal in an interview. "When I saw the way he ran a stable, the way he kept his horses looking and his equipment, it was something to pattern myself after. I always wanted to have a good looking stable."

Born into a harness racing family made it easy for Joe to develop his great love for the sport but he had the blood of a champion flowing through his veins and when he got together with horses similarly endowed, it was an invincible duo.

 more of Joe O'Brien

Duck Acorn         George Callbeck         Earle Semple         Clark Smith

Colonel Dan MacKinnon          Francis McIsaac          James MacGregor


A big thank you to Jack O'Brien,Trot Magazine and the PEI Sports Hall Of Fame.