Donn's Articles » Aidan O’Brien

Aidan O’Brien

Aidan O’Brien had a good week at York’s Ebor meeting last week.  He sent out Idaho to win the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes on Wednesday, and he sent out Seventh Heaven to win the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks on Thursday. 

As a bonus, Housesofparliament chased Idaho home in the Great Voltigeur to give their trainer a 1-2 in the race, and Found finished second behind Seventh Heaven in the Yorkshire Oaks, with Pretty Perfect finishing fourth to give him a 1-2-4.  And Highland Reel ran a cracker to finish second behind Postponed in the Juddmonte International on Wednesday.

It was a landmark meeting for the Ballydoyle trainer.  When Highland Reel finished second in the Juddmonte International, with Sir Isaac Newton finishing three lengths behind him in fourth, the combined prize money that they earned took the trainer’s total earnings for his owners in Britain this year to £5,368,647.  That was more than any trainer has ever earned in a year in Britain before.  Then the Yorkshire Oaks 1-2-4 took him to £5,717,304, and we are still only in August.

When John Gosden won the trainers’ championship last year, his horses earned a total of almost £5,277,651, which was a record then, with Golden Horn’s victories in the Derby and the Eclipse providing over £1 million of the total.

O’Brien did not with the Derby this year.  He did have the second and third in US Army Ranger and Idaho, but the £876,169 first prize went to Harzand.  Also, obviously neither the near half a million that Deauville won for winning the Belmont Derby at Belmont Park in America, nor the quarter of a million that The Gurkha earned for winning the French Guineas, contribute to British earnings.

But he did win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes with Highland Reel and the £689,027 that went with it.  He won the Sussex Stakes with The Gurkha and the £560,200 first prize.  He also won the 1000 Guineas, the Oaks and the Nassau Stakes with Minding, he won the Ascot Gold Cup with Order Of St George, he won the Falmouth Stakes with Alice Springs, he won the Vintage Stakes with War Decree and he won the Ribblesdale Stakes with Even Song.

A measure of the strength in-depth of the team lies in the fact that Aidan O’Brien has won 11 six-figure pots in Britain this season so far, and only Minding has won more than one of them.  He has had seven individual Group 1 winners in 2016 in Britain so far this season, and eight individuals who have won six-figure pots.

When Richard Hannon won the valuable Goffs Premier Yearling Stakes at York on Thursday, which took him into second place in the trainer’s championship, he acknowledged that he could not be champion trainer this year, that he could not catch O’Brien.  A gap of £3.6 million looks to be unbridgeable, even at this stage, with almost three months still to go in the season.  More records tumble, and it looks like another British trainers’ championship for the Irish trainer.

This phenomenon is not unprecedented, an Irish trainer winning the British championship, but it is a rarity.  Paddy Prendergast won the British championship for three years running, in 1963, 1964 and 1965, and Vincent O’Brien won it in 1966 and 1977.  But no Irish trainer won it between 1977 and 2001, when Aidan won his first.  And he has won three more since, but he hasn’t won it since 2008, which makes this year’s record total prize money haul all the more remarkable.

And this is without taking into account the home scene, where O’Brien has amassed over €3 million for his owners so far, and where he is looking good for yet another trainers’ championship.

There are other records too.  When Highland Reel won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot last month, it took the number of Group/Grade 1 races that Aidan O’Brien has won in his career to 280, past celebrated Australian trainer Tommy Smith’s record of 279.  The Gurkha, Minding, Caravaggio and Seventh Heaven have all won at the highest level since then, and so the Irish trainer is well on his way to setting a total that might never be beaten.

And there is the number of Group/Grade 1 wins in a season.  The legendary Bobby Frankel holds that record at 25.  O’Brien had 24 in 2001, but Bobby Frankel’s record must surely be on his radar now this term.

Seventh Heaven’s Yorkshire Oaks brought his total number of Group/Grade 1 wins in 2016 to 14: eight Group 1s in Britain, three in Ireland, The Gurkha’s French Guineas, Deauville’s Belmont Derby, and Ivanovich Gorbatov’s win in the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in March. 

We are well into August now, and the racing gets hugely competitive in the autumn and into the early part of the winter internationally, but nine more victories at the highest level is not an insurmountable task for a man with O’Brien’s genius and with the equine talent that he has at his disposal.

To put it into context, he had 10 Group 1 winners between September and December last year: three in Ireland, two in France, two in Britain, two Breeders’ Cup wins in America with Found and Hit It A Bomb, and Highland Reel’s Hong Kong Vase.  It is a small world these days, and another record is within reach.

© The Sunday Times, 21st August 2016