‘Extraordinary’ O’Brien Breaks Record With 26th Group One Victory Of 2017

by | 10.28.2017 | 8:43pm
Aidan O'Brien has won a total of 26 Group 1 races in 2017, besting Bobby Frankel's record of 25 Group 1 wins set in 2003

It has been on the cards for some time, but Saxon Warrior's victory in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster finally provided Aidan O'Brien with a unique slice of racing history.

The Ballydoyle handler notched his 26th Group One win of the year on Town Moor, breaking the record set by legendary American trainer Bobby Frankel back in 2003.

While there is no doubt he is in a privileged position training for the powerful Coolmore team, his skill lies in extracting every drop of potential in virtually all of his inmates.

O'Brien's modesty is a running joke in racing circles – he is always putting the praise on “Davy” or “Johnny” rather than himself – but at Doncaster there was no getting away from it, he would have to take all the plaudits, no matter how hard he tried to share the limelight.

“It's incredible. I'm so delighted for everyone, I'm thrilled,” said O'Brien. “You just don't expect it, all you can do is your best. I feel so proud for everyone.

“It's a privilege to be working with such special people. We're in a very lucky position and we're a small link in a big chain.

“It is so hard to win Group Ones that I never expect it. We've just got a great team, that's at the heart of it.

“We've been in Ballydoyle 20 years now and each year some of the staff are retiring, but not before they are passing on all that experience.

“The lads (Coolmore triumvirate John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor) do a great job breeding and buying the horses and it is our job not to damage them.

“I'm very pleased it's happened today as even though there's other Group Ones, there's a chance we might not win another.

“It's been a funny year really. A lot of horses have progressed and progressed. There were so many horses like that, it was unusual.

“A lot of very well-bred horses just got better and better.

“We don't get much time to enjoy it through the season, we are always looking ahead, but when it's all over we'll sit back and look at what we could have done better.”

A big cog in the Ballydoyle wheel is Ryan Moore, who divides his time between Britain and Ireland to team up with O'Brien's bluebloods.

“Aidan will be breaking records for a long time yet,” said Moore. “I'm very lucky, I've worked with the best, but there's no doubt Aidan is extraordinary. He handles everything very well and from my point of view he makes things very easy.

“He's been at the top for 20 years so I can't say anything new about him, it's just a pleasure to ride for him.”

Before Moore, the man entrusted with riding the Ballydoyle stars was O'Brien's son, Joseph, now a successful trainer in his own right.

“He's had an unbelievable year and I'm absolutely delighted for him,” said the younger O'Brien. “It's been a record for so long and he's got close to it before. Obviously it's looked like he would get it in the last couple of weeks and to get it done is unbelievable.

“There are a few more chances to come, but the Breeders Cup is very tough and it can also be tough in France with the ground.

“It's great that he's got it done and it's a little bit of pressure off.”

O'Brien's wife, Annemarie, thinks the team will not be taking their foot off the gas just yet, telling At The Races: “We're delighted and proud to break the record. It's a great day.”

Asked whether there will be a celebration, she said: “We've another Group One in France on Sunday and we head off to the Breeders' Cup early next week, so there's a bit of racing still to do.”

One of those trying to stem the O'Brien tide in Ireland is Dermot Weld, himself a ground-breaker, yet he is fulsome in his praise.

“It's a wonderful achievement and he deserves all the credit for the hard work he puts in,” said Weld. “It's not just good for him but it's good for Irish racing.”

It seems Aidan O'Brien has been breaking records from almost the day he first took out a licence.

That he now holds the world best for number of top-level winners trained in a calendar year seems only fitting for a man who has been crowned champion Irish Flat trainer in terms of prize-money won in every season since 1999.

O'Brien – no relation to his namesake Vincent O'Brien, the original master of Ballydoyle in County Tipperary – began his career with Curragh trainer PJ Finn and was later assistant trainer to both Jim Bolger and Annemarie Crowley, whom he was later to marry.

O'Brien, 47, took out his trainer's licence in 1993, being based at Piltown in County Kilkenny – from where his son, Joseph, now trains after hanging up his very successful riding boots – and his first winner was Wandering Thoughts at Tralee in June of that year.

It was actually in the National Hunt world he first made his name, becoming the first trainer to saddle a 1-2-3 in the 1995 Galway Plate, led home by Life Of A Lord, who went on to win the Kerry National at Listowel and the Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown, before going back to Galway to claim a second consecutive victory in the Galway Plate.

And he will always be associated with the mighty Istabraq, three times the winner of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and four times victorious in the Irish equivalent.

O'Brien moved to Ballydoyle in 1996 and quickly established himself as one of the leading trainers in the world, becoming the first to win the Epsom Derby in three consecutive years when Australia won in 2014, following on from Ruler Of The World and Camelot.

Camelot's success was all the more remarkable as it was the first father/son (Joseph), trainer/jockey partnership to win a British Classic. O'Brien's first Classic had come with the appropriately-named Classic Park in the 1997 Irish 1,000 Guineas at the Curragh.

At Royal Ascot in 2015, O'Brien saddled eight winners over the five days. Minding gave O'Brien his 250th Group/Grade One winner on the Flat when taking the Qipco 1000 Guineas at Newmarket in 2016.

He saddled his 50th winner at Royal Ascot when Even Song won last year's Ribblesdale Stakes. In October of the same year, he recorded an unprecedented 1-2-3 in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly when the Ryan Moore-ridden Found led home Highland Reel and Order Of St George.

O'Brien recorded his 70th European Classic success when Churchill landed the Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh in May. The same colt had won Guineas at Newmarket three weeks earlier.

There have been so many champions for Wexford-born O'Brien – the likes of Galileo, High Chaparral, Hawk Wing, Giant's Causeway, Rock Of Gibraltar, Fame And Glory and so many others – and he bagged his 300th Group/Grade One winner (Flat and National Hunt combined) when Highland Reel took the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.

His daughter Ana rode in the English and Irish Derby this year, but suffered a terrible fall at Killarney in July and continues to recover from her injuries, while son Donnacha also rides to a high level and was in both races.

Another daughter, Sarah, has had her share of success, too, further cementing the family's racing dynasty.

In what has been a record-breaking season for Aidan O'Brien, Press Association Sport considers five reasons why the Ballydoyle maestro will remain at the top of his profession for years to come.

HIGH STANDARDS

Perhaps we are now at the stage where the incredible success of O'Brien is taken for granted. Yes, he deals with the best bloodstock and with all the Galileos at his disposal, many trainers would feel they could do the same job. However, you can count on one hand the amount of times his huge string has gone through a “quiet” spell and it should not be underestimated how hard it is to keep thoroughbreds at peak form all year long.

STRENGTH IN DEPTH

Not only has O'Brien broken ground with the sheer number of Group One winners he has trained, in several races he also saddled the second and sometimes even the third for good measure. No better was this demonstrated than in the Derby this year when 40-1 chance Wings Of Eagles defeated the better-fancied Cliffs Of Moher. He was also responsible for the first two in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket and the first three in the Irish equivalent.

ATTENTION TO DETAIL

That O'Brien name-checks all the stable lads and lasses after every big win and can remember their names seconds after winning a prestigious race when there are hundreds of employees at Ballydoyle, speaks volumes about the man. Before each Group One, no matter how many runners he has, O'Brien saddles each horse himself, leaves nothing to chance and takes full responsibility.

RYAN MIGHTY

The world's greatest trainer needs the world's greatest jockey. It is surely not a coincidence that Ryan Moore has been O'Brien's go-to guy at precisely the same time the Ballydoyle handler has taken his game to the next level. Moore's global expertise has become such an important asset for O'Brien that it is almost unimaginable the well-oiled machine would function with quite such stunning velocity if the jockey was not part of the team.

FAMILY MAN

As O'Brien has been keen to point out on so many occasions, he is just one cog – albeit a vital one – in a big wheel at Ballydoyle and it should not be underestimated the role his wife, Annemarie, and his children have played in his success. Annemarie, a former trainer herself, has been a constant by her husband's side over the years. His eldest son, Joseph, rode many big-race winners for the yard, including a couple of Epsom Derby heroes in Camelot (2012) and Australia (2014), before hanging up his riding boots and kicking off his own training career. Joseph's siblings, Sarah, Ana and Donnacha, are all talented riders, too – both on the track and, crucially, riding work at home.

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