Dan O’Brien (1847-1916) was an Australasian turf legend during his lifetime but today few Australians or New Zealanders have heard of the original owner of Carbine.
Born in pre-gold rush Melbourne to Irish immigrants and orphaned before he was 14, Dan O’Brien grew up among horses. From birth to seven years old, this renowned jockey, trainer, owner, breeder and publican, the son of a drover, lived less than 100 metres from Kirk’s Bazaar, Melbourne’s famous horse market. At 14, he was working in racing stables and by the time he celebrated his twenty-first birthday, he was living in New Zealand and had ridden winners in Melbourne, Sydney and Christchurch.
In 1867, after several years working for the Fisher brothers at the famous Maribyrnong stables in Melbourne, Dan left Australia to try his luck in New Zealand. There, in a long, colourful and successful career, he rode, trained, owned and bred many famous horses. Among these were Tambourini, Fishhook, Tasman, Rubina, Trenton, Sextant, Gipsy King, Carbine, Florrie, Loyalty, Multifid and Maranui, the last of whom was the first New Zealand-bred horse to win a Caulfield Cup. Although O’Brien grew to love New Zealand, he twice returned to live in Australia, eventually dying in Sydney in 1916, aged 69.
The most famous of Dan O’Brien’s horses was Carbine, purchased as a highly bred but unattractive yearling at Auckland in January 1887, for 620 guineas. As a two-year-old he was undefeated in five races in New Zealand. In September 1888, O’Brien shipped Carbine to Australia, where after winning two more races he was sold for 3,000 guineas to Donald Wallace, for whom he went on to win a further 26 races, including the 1890 Melbourne Cup. In his outstanding Melbourne Cup win Carbine carried the greatest ever winning weight (66.5kg) and set an Australian record of 3 minutes 28¼ seconds that lasted for 15 years. He also ran in the largest field ever – 39.
In his Foreword to this book, Andrew Lemon wrote:
Dan O’Brien: The Original Owner of Carbine: Australasia’s Forgotten Turf Legend is an exemplary piece of research and writing that brings together in lucid detail the different strands in the life of Dan O’Brien…a boon for those who appreciate racing history…a fine contribution to the colonial histories of Australia and New Zealand.
In his review for Sporting Traditions, the Journal of the Australian Society for Sports History, Chris McConville wrote:
The life of this one time legendary turf figure is told in great detail, with clarity, thorough research and clear structure…The book’s outstanding production values in photographs, print quality and referencing make the life of Dan O’Brien even more deserving of both academic response and popular readership.