Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien has beaten Bobby Frankel’s world record of 25 Group or Grade 1 wins on the Flat in a year. O’Brien equaled it at Ascot, England on October 21 with Hydrangea in the British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes and broke it on Saturday (October 28) with Saxon Warrior in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster.
Saxon Warrior, a son of Deep Impact out of a mare by Galileo, started as hot favorite, ridden by Ryan Moore, but had to fight hard for his record-breaking win. He took the lead a quarter mile from home but was bumped by his only closing rival, Roaring Lion who was hanging across the track but looked to have him beat when he grabbed the lead. Moore gave Saxon Warrior a couple of strides to recover from the collision before asking for everything and he got it, beating the John Gosden trainee Roaring Lion a neck.
On Sunday (October 29) O’Brien had a number of chances of adding to his Group 1 total in France but it was a wasted journey. He was scheduled to send out some strongly fancied runners but protestors blocking the entrance to the parade ring at Saint Cloud led to the meeting being abandoned after the first race and the big races were later in the card. The Breeders Cup at Del Mar is his next hunting ground and it seems likely to be a much more productive one.
Breeders’ Cup Raiders
O’Brien has staged successful Breeders’ Cup raids before and saddles US Navy Flag, the clear favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf betting as well as Rhododendron, the Filly and Mare Turf favorite. He has plenty of other trainees with serious claims including the ultra-consistent Highland Reel who attempts to defend his Breeders’ Cup Turf title. Fast ground will add to his hopes of beating the more popular Ulysses, a British invader saddled by Sir Michael Stoute, another handler with a good Breeders’ Cup record. Stoute has had seven Breeders’ Cup winners taking the Fillies and Mares last year with Queen’s Trust. If Ulysses wins it will be Stoute’s fifth victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, Conduit won it for him twice.
Only Rushing Fall is more popular with bettors at 3/1 than O’Brien’s September (9/2) and Happily (5/1) in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. The ultimate prize of the Breeders’ Cup Classic has so far eluded O’Brien but he saddled Giant’s Causeway who was beaten a neck by Tiznow in 2000 – it was an impressive performance for a colt having his first run on dirt.
This weekend Churchill, O’Brien’s 2,000 Guineas winner, is set to line up in the Classic but he is understandably not fancied to improve on Giant’s Causeway’s result – an unlucky runner-up to Tiznow in 2000. Churchill has not been asked to race on anything except turf and is yet to score over a mile and a quarter. He has also been beaten in his three latest runs and is a 25/1 shot. Sometimes ‘the lads’ put pressure on O’Brien to make aspirational appointments with their horses.
O’Brien and Ballydoyle
O’Brien was mobbed by the UK media after his record-breaking win at Doncaster. They described him as a legend but O’Brien was typically humble and said that the achievement was a team effort and that he was a small link in a much bigger chain. That chain involves the mighty Coolmore breeding operation and its impressive training center, Ballydoyle.
The facilities and the equestrian ammunition for success are abundant but O’Brien is extraordinarily talented and focused. His attention to detail is almost obsessive. Unlike the majority of his countrymen he does not drink alcohol, he knows the names of all of his 50 plus work riders in Tipperary and deliberately mentions them whenever a horse in their care wins. Staff motivation is a major factor in any business.
How did O’Brien get the job at Ballydoyle? John Magnier, one of ‘the lads’ in the trio behind Ballydoyle, hand-picked Aidan to be their trainer in 1996. He had to follow in the massive footsteps of Magnier’s father-in-law, Vincent O’Brien who established Ballydoyle and is acknowledged as one of the training greats. Aidan O’Brien is not related to Vincent but attracted everyone’s attention through his phenomenal success with a hurdler called Istabraq. Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, the two other ‘lads’ were happy to entrust him with their equine investments.
O’Brien has more than repaid Magnier’s faith. The attributes associated with the offspring of Coolmore’s star sire Galileo combined with O’Brien’s skill in handling them and the produce of other bloodlines has resulted in unparalleled success. O’Brien knows that horses cannot win races if they are left in his barn and many of his trainees experience adversity but return to the winner’s enclosure.
Hydrangea, his record-equaling filly is an interesting example. This daughter of Galileo was narrowly beaten into second place at the top level many times as a juvenile but failed to fire in the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf at Santa Anita, finishing dead last. She had had a long season and, on her seventh start and first experience of long distance shipping, her failure to perform was no surprise.
She was successfully revitalized back in Tipperary and won on her debut as a three-year-old in April, beating a more fancied stablemate. Hydrangea scored for the first time at Group 1 level in Ireland in September and then followed up at Ascot. Fillies can be a test for any trainer and O’Brien manages better than most to get them to perform. It would be no surprise if one of his female trainees added to his record-breaking total at Del Mar.