O is for O'Reilly
March 31, 2019 and Ideal Invasion sweeps down the outside of the Mt Harding Racecourse at Methven to win at odds of ten-to-one.
In the cart is Junior Driver Sarah O’Reilly who has just won the Pat O’Reilly Memorial Trot named after her late grandfather.
The victory is greeted with big celebrations on-course, Sarah would later call her biggest moment in racing.
She’s the third generation of this well-known Mid Canterbury family to be involved in harness racing.
In 2019 she won the New Zealand Junior Driver Championship and then the Australasian Young Driver Championship. She was also named Young New Zealand Rural Sportsperson of the Year at the Norwood Sports Awards.
Pat O’Reilly senior died aged 73 in 1994. He trained 341 winners and drove 190, including 1969 New Zealand Cup winner Spry.
He was one of 16 children and he had 10 as well. To mark his retirement from race-driving aged 65, Pat and four of his sons drove in the same race at Addington.
Of those sons Patrick O’Reilly has the most winners (758) though he hasn’t been driving for the past couple of years, and as a trainer he’s had 476 winners, including the likes of Tyron Scottie and Report for Duty.
Gerard O’Reilly (Sarah’s father) is next with 577 wins as a driver, his 500th was a notable one with his charge Tiger Tara beating Smolda and Christen Me to win the 2015 Canterbury Classic.
He described his dad as “a hard task master around the stables but a very astute horseman”.
On Pat senior’s death Gerard took over the stable colours, and has trained 164 winners since 1994. Leo and Kerry are also active in the industry.
Kerry, a farrier like his father, was closely associated with the dual gaited Strietross, who won 20 races including the 1996 Ordeal Cup, while Leo’s been training and driving for 30 years (444 wins as a driver from 5847 starters).
Since her first raceday drive in 2018 Sarah O’Reilly has had 42 wins (and a few awards) - the next generation it appears is in good hands.