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Obituary - Jack O'Brien

In life, the late Jack O'Brien came across as larger than life itself.

With his passing aged 78, he will be remembered as a man of huge generosity, amiable disposition, a great raconteur and a person totally wedded to the world of the thoroughbred.

Born in 1930 when the world was in a state of financial despair, it is a perhaps ironic that he left it when a changed world teetered on the brink of a matching disaster.

In such times optimism is the ultimate consolation and in terms of optimism Jack O'Brien had it by the bucketful. Throughout life he religiously walked on the sunny side, deftly leaving his mark on the lives of people, not just from the Cape to the Bluff, but also on the shores of distant lands.

If ever a man had an infectious personality it lived within his own ample frame as he pursued his career in transport, thoroughbreds and racing administration.

It was almost a given that on joining the workforce it would be with the family racehorse transport business - a business which left a lasting mark on racing when Jack was still a toddler.

It was an O'Brien truck which transported the great Phar Lap to Wellington Port on his epic journey to Mexico's Agua Caliente racetrack for lasting world fame and the tragic loss of his life.

On his way from Sydney to America, Phar Lap had spent five weeks at Harry Telford's Trentham stables preparing for the long sea journey. O'Briens carried the champion from Trentham to the ship, along with enough fodder for the voyage and a photo of the great horse being hoisted aboard remains one of the iconic treasures of New Zealand racing.

In later years when Jack was at the helm of the business he amalgamated it with two other transport operations to establish Freightways. His next career move in 1976 was to establish, along with wife Kay, Sovereign Lodge Stud at Ohau, near Levin.

Stallions to stand there were Otehi Bay, Honary Degree, Kingdom Bay, TV Hearthrob and Val D'Arno.

Significantly he had bred Kingdom Bay and had raced Vaguely Noble's handsome Avondale Cup winning son Val D'Arno in partnership with American Heliose Power.

Otehi Bay, a son of Biscay acquired from friend and prominent Sydney racing personality Bob Miller, spawned the stud slogan "breed for speed" and the horse himself proved a goldmine when sold for $3.6 million.

During Sovereign Lodge Stud days he strongly supported Magic Millions Ltd's bid to establish race-related sales in New Zealand and served as president of the Wellington Racing Club.

Sovereign Lodge was dispersed in 1997 and retirement taken in Taupo.

The trademark O'Brien welcome mat went with them with Jack continuing to find room for two drinks in a glass designed for one and maybe three if your favourite tipple was gin.

The only thing which took precedence over friends was family. Carrying on the thoroughbred torch are veterinarian and studmaster son John and his own son ….who is following the same career. Another grandson in Mark Lindsay, winner of the 2007 Sunline Scholarship, is presently employed at Victoria's Eliza Park

- David Bradford


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