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Colum (Joseph) O'Brien died peacefully at home on January 10, 2024, surrounded by his loving family. Colum was born on March 17, 1944, in Dublin Ireland, to Patrick and Bridget O’Brien. Colum grew up in Ireland surrounded by the family chaos of 11 children. He went to the Christian Brothers elementary school and was eventually sent to England to become an apprentice thoroughbred jockey. He served his apprenticeship in Lambourne, England, and met the love of his life, Jacqueline (Ward) while visiting home in 1961. Colum and Jackie started a long-distance love affair that included many love letters between them. Colum came to the United States in 1964 to work with his brother Leo for Frank Whitely, and eventually emigrated fully in 1966. He came to America to continue his riding career in Virginia, under the guidance of Raymond Guest. He was with his older brother Leo, and soon joined by another brother Michael. Together they became known on the riding circuit as the “ Jumping O’Briens” and they successfully fulfilled their dreams of becoming steeplechase jockeys traveling the East Coast mostly in the South. He joined his brothers in New York in 1969 while working for the late Sidney Waters, who would become a mentor and encouraging force for Colum to focus on being a flat jockey. Throughout his riding career, he worked with many great horses, being the exercise rider of Hoist the Flag and Love Sign.
On February 3, 1968 Colum and Jackie wed in Middleburg Virginia, and their first daughter Michele was born in Leesburg, Virginia in December of 1968. Their second daughter, Colleen, arrived in February of 1974. In 1978, Colum switched careers and became a thoroughbred horse trainer. He started training at Belmont Park, in Elmont NY. He started with one horse, Dumb Donna, owned by Richard Bomze. He won his first race 22 starts later with Dumb Donna at Belmont Park. Training and riding his own horses was Colum’s passion and calling in life. Throughout his 40-year career as a horse trainer, he traveled the East Coast winning races mostly in New York, but also New Jersey. His favorite place to train and race was Saratoga Springs NY. He was a true horseman and loved to ride the horses that he trained, in fact, he continued to ride well into his early 70’s. He retired from training horses in 2017 and left Elmont to retire in Saratoga Springs with his wife Jackie.
To know Colum, was to love him. He was a charismatic man who loved to talk to everyone. He enjoyed sharing his views and laughing with all. His pride and joy were his three daughters, Michele, Colleen, and Tara (who arrived in August of 1980). His greatest achievement was ensuring that his daughters got the best education possible. All three girls went to St. Boniface in Elmont NY and Sacred Heart Academy in West Hempstead NY. All three girls went on to college and successful careers. Colum never met a stranger, he welcomed all into his barn and his home. Throughout his life, he mentored dozens of young jockeys and riders from Ireland, England, and Puerto Rico. Colum always gave a young rider and an apprentice jockey a chance. He gave many of today's leading riders their first shot. He loved everything about the horse industry and loved to travel to farms to see the young horses and how they were developing. He also made sure to find the retiring horses he trained loving second careers or homes.
Colum loved to watch TV, especially horse racing. Whenever you walked into the O’Brien home, even the day he passed, horse racing was one. He also loved to take drives with his family. He was the sole driver (until his girls got their licenses) driving the four women in his life everywhere. He liked to drive everywhere, Lake Placid, Florida, and Canada, you name it, the faster the better. His wife and children have fond memories of Colum driving them, dropping them off and picking them up daily from somewhere. He also loved eating out, starting the tradition of Friday night dinner out. This is something he shared with Jackie and his children. There were many great dinners at Lums, Houlihans, Nancy’s, the Firehouse, Winslows, the Wishing Well, the Villa d’Esta, Nove and hundreds more. He was an excellent gardener and at times a successful handyman and mechanic.
Colum’s greatest skill was unconditional love, both with his wife, his daughters and his grandchildren. One of the unique aspects of this love was involving his whole family in his career as a horse trainer. Jackie often brought the three girls to the barn to “help” out when they were younger. As his daughters got older they worked with their Dad at the barn on the weekends and school holidays. All three of his daughters spent time with him and learned every aspect of the business. He taught them how to ride, but most importantly he shared his passion and love for horses with them. The O’Brien family was always together at the barn and at the races. And when Colum won a race it was a family affair and celebration. He continued that tradition of sharing his love of horses with his three grandchildren, Bridget, Keellyn, and Angelo. Many mornings you would see him proudly giving his grandkids pony rides around his barn and getting hot chocolate from the Kitchen.
Colum is survived by his wife Jacqueline (Ward), his daughters Michele (Angelo Vescio), Colleen (Jay Cummings), and Tara, and his grandchildren Bridget and Angelo (Vescio) and Keellyn (Cummings). In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation at https://www.trfinc.org/.
Family and friends may call from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 16, 2024 at Compassionate Funeral Care, 402 Maple Ave. (Rte 9 and/or Marion Ave.), Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.
A mass service will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, January 17, 2024 at St. Peter’s Church, 241 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.