Vale Les Obriem – Craftsman

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HORSE RACING

Craftsman: Mornington trackwork clocker Les Obriem, also known as Craftsman, passed away aged 74. Picture: Supplied

ASTUTE Mornington trackwork clocker Les Obriem passed away on Sunday 15 September after spending more than four decades applying his trade.

The old-school clocker, who also wrote under the nom de plume Craftsman, passed away aged 74 due to health issues.

Throughout his time Obriem worked for various media outlets including the Sportsman, the Sporting Globe, The Herald, The Truth and the Winning Post as well as being heard on radio stations, 3UZ with Bert Bryant and 3DB with Bill Collins.

In recent years, Les had a passion for going to Sandown and then Werribee to clock and watch the numerous international gallopers as they prepared for the Melbourne Spring Carnival.

Obriem made a great contribution to Mornington Racecourse through his love of horse racing and the people that put on the show. He was also on the Emu Plains Committee at Balnarring Racecourse for 10 years.

Group One winning trainer Pat Carey said Les’ presence in the trainer’s tower at Mornington would light up the room.

“He had incredibly sharp wit and a good sense of humour,” Carey said. “He was always prepared to talk about the ‘elephant’ in the room. He was immensely respected and had all the confidence by the trainers.”

“He was very sentimental about the local history of Mornington and Balnarring, and loved recalling the deeds of local trainers.

“When radio was the main medium for getting information to the punters, Les’ segment was a must listen to – everyone listened to it.”

Obriem basically grew up at the Mentone Racecourse (now closed) with his father Syd training out of the venue before getting the opportunity to clock horses at Mornington. His brother, Joe, had previously clocked horses at Mornington as well, before moving to the Epsom Racecourse (now also closed).

Somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades, Obriem even tried his hand at training and jockey management.

Obriem had one or two horses in training during the late 1960s and handled several jockey’s careers including Wayne Hokai, Kevin Forrester, Andrew Findlay, Rowan Waymouth and Anthony Darmanin.

Obriem made an impact across the Peninsula having also set up a fundraising drive for underprivileged kids in the Westernport Area, rounding up support from local horse trainers. 

“He Inspired trainers to support the local charity,” Carey said. “The trainers do it every year now and have continued the initiative with support from the Melbourne Racing Club Foundation.”

Some of the top horses that caught Obriem’s eye over the years included the mighty mare Makybe Diva and the Mornington-trained triple Group One winner, Hareeba.

“He regarded Makybe Diva’s gallop before she won her second Melbourne Cup as the best gallop he had seen at Mornington on the course proper,” Carey said.

“He had a high regard for the Ken Newman-trained Hareeba, one of Australia’s great sprinters, as well as Charlie Waymouth’s gallopers Rancher and Sequalo.”

Obriem’s other passions were fishing, watching his grandsons Brodie and Max play footy on a Sunday morning and caravanning every winter with his wife, Heather. Les was a loving father to Nicholas (dec), Hayley and Samuel.

The Melbourne Racing Club will now name a race after the great clocker on Grand Final day, Saturday 28 September – Vale Les Obriem Craftsman Plate.

First published in the Frankston Times – 23 September 2019

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