One year before his passing in 1984, harness racing icon Joe O’Brien spent the better part of an hour taking part in a radio call-in show. From his home base in California, O’Brien joined PEI’s ‘Island Sport Rap’ and discussed everything harness racing along with hosts Larry Resnitzky and Postie Connolly. O’Brien also fielded questions from callers that ranged from family, friends, and fellow Standardbred racing enthusiasts.
During the segment, O’Brien touched on the importance of integrity and hard work in the industry. Outside of catching up with many of his well-wishers, O’Brien mainly discussed horses, including some of his favourites and the best charges that he was able to steer.
Although the list was long, O’Brien did his best to pinpoint which horses he thought were the gamest that he ever drove.
“I had two horses that were very much alike – not in the same year, but different years,” O’Brien explained. “Armbro Ranger was the first two-year-old in Canada to ever go in two minutes, and he did that on a half-mile track. The other horse was Flight Director, who raced for two years. They were very much alike, but they were both very game. In terms of trotters, I’d say that probably Armbro Flight is one of the gamest horses that I ever had.”
Making reference to Standardbreds of each gait, O’Brien noted, as most are well aware of, that getting trotters to excel at high levels is another ball of wax altogether.
“A lot of people don’t have the opportunity to train enough trotters to get used to them,” said O’Brien. “Almost anyone can train a pacer – some a little better than others – almost anyone can make them pace. A trotter has to be balanced and hung up just right. Some of them (trotters) are just naturals, but some of them need quite a bit of attention and need to be balanced just right.”
O’Brien also took the time to discuss Fresh Yankee, the millionaire daughter of Hickory Pride that had the ability to make all of her attributes work for her.
“[Fresh Yankee] had two very big things in her favour,” O’Brien said. “One was her gait and the other was her determination. Between the two, I think they made her a better than average horse because she could put everything together. Her manners were foolproof. I don’t think she could trot as fast as Armbro Flight or Armbro Regina or some others that I had, but she was a racing machine… Fresh Yankee was just a racing machine. She was a great mare… She was a tough little good-mannered racehorse – perfect.”
O’Brien also answered what might have been the toughest question of them all, yet he did it rather easily. When asked who the greatest horse he ever sat behind was, O’Brien said it was Scott Frost.
“I kind of lean towards Scott Frost,” said O’Brien. “I think he was probably the greatest horse that I’ve ever had. Of course there have been a lot of other horses, like Diamond Hal, Nero, Storm Damage, Armbro Flight, Armbro Regina, Shadow Wave and many others, all of which were good, but Scott Frost was something special to me… He had tremendous speed. He could race without a boot. He could leave. He could come home. You could do anything with him.”
The interview has come courtesy of Larry Resnitzky and Nicole MacLeod MacPherson of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, who have established the website worldharnessracing.com. The website also offers an interactive component that will see one person chosen at random on May 4 to receive a new copy of the now out-of-print book THE HORSEMAN FROM ALBERTON: The Story of Harness Racing Driver Joe O’Brien by Marie Hill.