The Luck Of The Irish With Freo In Peters Stakes


After the global financial crisis in Ireland and the hustle and bustle of Sydney, Daniel O’Connor is content to call Perth home.

The O’Connor name is relatively new to WA training ranks, but his racing resume is broad and packed with international experience.

A jumps jockey and horse breaker in Ireland to working with leading English horseman, Richard Hannon, O’Connor’s grounding in thoroughbreds is extensive.

About seven years ago O’Connor reluctantly left home in search of improved opportunities after sluggish economic conditions impacted the Irish racing industry.

With his Scottish partner and young daughter in tow, O’Connor travelled to Sydney and commenced his Australian grounding with Rick Worthington at Warwick Farm.

But the bright lights of Australia’s biggest city didn’t exactly inspire the Irishman and he was back on the road again, this time trekking across the Nullarbor to Perth.

And following a mix of good luck, opportunity and a dose of generosity, O’Connor landed a plum job with one of Western Australia’s iconic racing families.

“I had contacts of two Western Australian trainers in my pocket and the first number I pulled out was going to be the first trainer I called when I landed in Perth,” O’Connor said.

“It happened to be Dan Morton who was good enough to offer me a job and sponsor me as part of Australia’s visa application residency rules.

“The other trainer’s contact number that I had in my pocket was Fred Kersley, so I don’t think I was ever going to miss out by coming to Perth.

“I enjoyed working with Rick Worthington, but the busy lifestyle in Sydney didn’t really appeal to me and I was told Perth was very family oriented.

“I was only in Sydney for about three or four weeks before coming to the realisation that it wasn’t really the place for me and my family.”

O’Connor also worked at stables in Germany, Switzerland, Norway and France.

He said Morton’s knowledge had given him a valuable insight into Australian racing.

“Dan has been brilliant and taught me an awful lot,” O’Connor said.

“He has a much more relaxed and patient approach to his horses.

“It’s a simpler process than back home where we work horses more regularly.

“Dan is also a perfectionist in everything he does.”

Now that he is comfortably nestled in the heart of racing territory at Mathieson Road Ascot in his own right, O’Connor is determined to land his first feature race success in Perth.

And he gets what appears to be a top chance when he saddles unheralded gelding Freo in the Group 3 R.J.Peters Stakes (1500m) at Ascot on Saturday.

The son of Izmir is second favourite ($3.80)) behind Action ($2.25) after he romped home by nearly four lengths last start at Ascot.

Despite Freo facing the biggest test of his 12-start career, O’Connor is not short of confidence.

“I think he is definitely up to it,” O’Connor said.

“I would be disappointed if he didn’t finish in the first two.”

Freo has drawn barrier four and will be ridden for the first time by Shaun McGruddy, replacing the suspended Dan Staeck.

McGruddy gave Freo a glowing endorsement after track work on Wednesday.

“Shaun got off and said he was a seriously good horse,” O’Connor said.

“That gave me a lot of confidence because he rides a lot of good horses.”

The winner of the Peters gains automatic entry into the Group 1 Railway Stakes (1600m) on November 24.

It could lead to a pleasant connundrum for O’Connor.

“I haven’t looked too far ahead, but if he wins we will look at it,” O’Connor.

“It will be a nice headache to have.”

Julio Santarelli