By Richard Turnbull
The Queensland racing industry is mourning the loss of popular Blackall identity Dennis O’Brien, who passed away late last month at the age of 69 after a short battle with cancer.
O’Brien was well-known throughout central Queensland as a quiet achiever, albeit one who enjoyed and deserved his racing success.
“It is an incredibly sad time for Dennis’ family and friends and the racing industry,” Capricornia Racing Chairman Leon Roberts said.
“We have lost a true gentleman and a very talented horseman.”
O’Brien will no doubt be remembered as an all-round horseman with Country Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Prow having a massive influence on his life in racing through their Blackall association.
Dennis relocated in Blackall in the height of the wool boom as a gun shearer from Woodna in South Australia, arriving with a strong association to harness racing and greyhound racing in South Australia.
After realising there was a good earn year-round in Blackall, he made it his fulltime home shearing sheep until the age of 57.
He struck up an association with Don and Robert Grieves at Avonlea and Avonleigh stations, who were racing enthusiasts and the rest was history for O’Brien, who inherited the family’s black and blue colours that all his runners donned.
Prow and O’Brien became the greatest of friends, with Charlie sharing his knowledge of racing to Dennis in his pathway to becoming a horse trainer.
It’s only been in the last decade that Dennis has been able to solely concentrate on training horses, with his shearing commitments still managing to keep him busy.
The end of the wool boom and a back injury saw Dennis down the clippers, which allowed him the time to work with his horses on a full-time basis.
Among the best that O’Brien prepared and owned was prolific country cups winner Exploder, who took out back-to-back Emerald 100s – under his own name in 2002 and then in the care of Bluff trainer Bill Trimble in 2003.
Exploder also has the rare feat of being one of only two horses to take out the Emerald 100 on two occasions, sharing the honour with 1992 winner Pleasant Express.
Arguably Dennis’ most treasured highlight in racing was taking out the 2015 and 2017 Alpha Cups as an owner with his once in a lifetime war horse A Dependant, who won 22 races and close to $200,000 in prize money – to go with several country cups.
Emma Bell also shared a great affinity with O’Brien, and he was a great supporter of the jockey in her early days, sharing a fantastic strike rate together.
The pair had central Queensland rumbling in the 2017 edition of the Alpha Cup, with O’Brien training the gelding on this occasion and Bell holding on in an epic finish to beat fellow iron horse Fab’s Cowboy - and the honour of being the only horse to win two Alpha Cups.
Charlie Prow said Dennis was the epitome of the many hard-working and passionate racing participants across the state.
“He loved horses and he lived for racing, in particular the passion and camaraderie that it offered,” Prow said.
“He was a respected member of the Central Queensland racing community.”