Born June 26, 1917 in Alberton, Joe O’Brien was perhaps the greatest driver and trainer of harness horses the world has ever seen. The son of Harry O’Brien, Joe (along with brothers Claude and Lloyd) was introduced to the sport of Kings at an early age. At age sixteen, Joe claimed his first victory with “Mickey Mouse” at the Summerside track. A true legend of Maritime racing, Joe would leave for the United States in 1947. In less than a year Joe would open his own stable, working out of Delmar, California. He was later based at Shafter, California.
At the time of his election to the Prince Edward Island Sports Hall of Fame in 1968, Joe had driven more sub two-minute miles than any man in racing history (over 100); he had won the famed Hambletonian on two occasions, the Little Brown Jug once, and countless other stakes races; he also held the world’s pacing record racing Steady Star to a time of 1:52 flat in Lexington, Kentucky in 1971.
By the end of his career, Joe O’Brien established numerous world records and won over $40 million in race earnings. A newly-created memorial and plaque have been erected in O’Brien’s native Alberton by his family.
By 1976 O’Brien had 3,804 career victories which placed him third all-time. In 1970 O’Brien teamed up with Fresh Yankee to win the Roosevelt International. Two years later, Yankee left O’Brien after a disagreement between owner and trainer, but they eventually patched up their differences. In 1975 the U.S. Harness Rider’s group honoured O’Brien for winning the 1975 universal driving system title. Joe O’Brien was inducted into the Harness Sports Hall of Fame in 1976, and he died on September 29, 1984. His obituary stated that although he appeared to be withdrawn and shy in the public eye, in person O’Brien was witty and liked to talk at great length about his horses. Joe O’Brien was honoured posthumously during the 2004 Little Brown Festival at the Belware fairgrounds when his family received the Joseph Neville Memorial Award in Joe’s honour.