Donn's Articles » Aidan O’Brien equals world record

Aidan O’Brien equals world record

For a little while now, it has been a case of where and when – not if – Aidan O’Brien would equal the late Bobby Frankel’s world record of 25 Group/Grade 1 wins in a calendar year.  And now we know: Ascot, yesterday.

The worry with Hydrangea going into the Group 1 Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes was that she had never before run over the distance of one and a half miles.  Aidan O’Brien’s filly had already netted a Group 1 win, when she battled on powerfully to get the better of her stable companion Winter and lead home a Ballydoyle 1-2 in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown on Irish Champions Weekend.  But that was over a mile.

She had stayed 10 furlongs all right on her last run before yesterday, when she had finished a close-up second behind another stable companion Rhododendron in the Prix de l’Opera at Chantilly on Arc de Triomphe day.  Also, she is by Galileo, and we know that sons and daughters of Galileo have the potential to get any trip.

Hydrangea had to stay yesterday too if she was to win.  Ryan Moore asked her to pick up on the outside as they rounded the home turn in the Fillies & Mares Stakes, and she hit the front fully two furlongs from home.  She was joined by favourite and proven stayer Bateel on the run to the furlong pole, and she may even have been headed by the French filly for a stride or two, but she battled back gamely on the far side under the Moore drive, and she finished off her race strongly, putting two lengths between herself and her pursuer by the time she reached the winning line.

“It’s incredible for everybody,” said Aidan O’Brien.  “Everybody puts in so much work, day in, day out. We’re just a small link in a big chain, we’re just delighted to be a part of it.”

It was fitting that the record was equalled yesterday, on Champions Day, on the day on which Aidan O’Brien was crowned champion trainer in Britain again. 

An Irish-based trainer wins the trainers’ championship in Britain.  This is the second year in a row that Aidan O’Brien has achieved that feat, and the sixth time in total.  Before he won his first British title in 2001, no Irish-based trainer had won it since Aidan’s predecessor at Ballydoyle, the legendary Dr Vincent O’Brien, won the second of his brace of British titles in 1977. 

Aidan O’Brien has run the well of superlatives dry.  Set to be crowned champion in Ireland for the 21st time this year, it is difficult to know where to start and where to end with his achievements: six Epsom Derbys, 12 Irish Derbys, the 1-2-3 in last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the 1-2-3-4 in this year’s Dewhurst Stakes.  

True, he has the raw materials with which to start now, he has the bloodlines and he has the access to the stallions – many of whom he trained as racehorses – and he has the facilities.  But one begets the other.  Just because you have access to the blocks and the equipment, it doesn’t automatically follow that you will be able to build the skyscraper.  The actual training is the art, the conditioning, the fine-tuning of the equine athlete.  The trainer makes the horse as much as the horses make the trainer.  And O’Brien over-achieved with lesser horses before he ever set foot in Ballydoyle.

It is difficult to put 25 Group 1 wins in a year into context.  Group 1 races pepper the pinnacle of racing.  They are the ultimate objectives, the gold medals of thoroughbred competition.  For most trainers, to train a Group 1 or a Grade 1 winner is a goal, and it is a goal to which most can only aspire.  Even some of the top trainers talk about a goal of training one Group 1 winner a year.  To have 25 in one year stretches the very bounds of credulity.

It started in early May with the Classics, when Churchill won the 2000 Guineas and Winter won the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket.  Then both horses came back to The Curragh and followed up in the Irish versions.  Actually, Aidan O’Brien trained eight of the 10 Classic winners in Britain and Ireland this year and, in the two Classics that he didn’t win, the Epsom Oaks and the Irish Oaks, both of which were won by wunderfilly Enable, he fielded the runners-up. 

He has sent out Winter to win four Group 1 races, Roly Poly to win three, Capri, Churchill, Happily, Highland Reel, US Navy Flag and now Hydrangea all to win two, and six other individuals to win one each.  That’s 25.  And there could be a few more before the year runs its course.  There are still Group 1 races in Australia and Britain and France and Italy and Hong Kong before you have to change the calendar, and you can be sure that there will be a strong team going from Ballydoyle to Del Mar for the Breeders’ Cup meeting in two weeks’ time.  Aidan O’Brien’s Group 1 haul for 2017 may not be complete yet.

© The Sunday Times, 22nd October 2017