A born winner who embodies the spirit of his legendary Ballydoyle predecessor
Richard Forristal assesses a phenomenal achievement
Lost amid the frenzy that we media folk conjured up as Aidan O’Brien bore down on the record that he finally claimed with Saxon Warrior at Doncaster is that we have been here before.
Maybe more specifically, O’Brien has been here before. When Bobby Frankel set the benchmark of 25 Grade 1 Flat wins in 2003, it was the Ballydoyle genius’s figure of 23 that he trumped.
In 2001, a mere five years after saddling his first Group 1 winner – Desert King in the National Stakes – the Wexford farmer’s son toppled Bob Baffert’s previous best of 22. He had just turned 31 years of age.
In the same year, he became the first Irish-based handler to be crowned champion Flat trainer in Britain since his Ballydoyle predecessor and namesake Vincent notched his second title in 1977.
He was the youngest man ever to achieve the distinction, and, to put his continued dominance into some context, consider that his six British titles constitute one more than both Vincent (two) and Paddy Prendergast (three) combined.
The point is, this is what O’Brien does, over and over again. Everything he does as a trainer, he does better than everyone else.
He is a born winner who spends the majority of his waking life obsessing over every minor detail in the quest for success, and who embodies that immortal line uttered by Vincent in response to a question that posed whether he ever got tired by the thought of having to repeatedly scale the same peaks.
“Is there anything wrong with winning everything all over again?” the great man countered.
His successor is a walking, talking reincarnation of that ethos. The 48-year-old has made the business of producing Group 1 winners inexplicably routine, taking to another level the foundations that Vincent put in place. Of course, that caveat should be noted.
Vincent created the training environment that Aidan has strove so studiously to perfect, and the current Rosegreen incumbent is clearly blessed with blue chip raw material. Maybe many others would excel in the manner that he has with such resources, but maybe they wouldn’t.
Remember, O’Brien was cherry picked by John Magnier to step into the void left by Vincent for a reason, essentially because he has always displayed this extraordinary capacity to saddle winners.
Having taken over from his wife Annemarie on Carriganog Hill in 1993, the following year he became the only trainer to send out 100 winners in their first full calendar year.
By October 31, 1994, O’Brien had beaten Dermot Weld’s 1991 record of 150 winners, finishing with a monster tally of 176.
And two years later he set a record of 155 winners in a jumps season that stood until the Willie Mullins leviathan devoured it in 2013, and when Cupid won at Leopardstown in October 1998, he set a world record for the fastest 1,000 winners on one’s home territory, five years and 139 days after securing his licence.
To reiterate, this is simply what O’Brien does. From the very outset he has got the most of whatever talent he has had at his disposal.
Having been privileged to work for him in those early days, I have first-hand experience of that exquisite knack.
From low-grade horses like Crannon Boy or Bob Barnes, O’Brien extracted every last ounce of potential, same as he has done this year with somewhat unlikely heroes such as Wings Of Eagles, Hydrangea and US Navy Flag.
His exploits with Music Box illustrate the point equally well, turning out a previously unraced filly 16 times in just over six months and eking out a standout performance from her on the latest of those runs.
Sure, the manner in which the Group-race programme has swelled is a factor that has worked to O’Brien’s advantage in terms of his reclaiming the Flat record, but that is missing the point.
He is simply a master of his profession, who, given his relative youth, will continue to set the bar so high that few will ever be able to realistically even aspire to match it.
There is nothing wrong with winning everything all over again, and he will continue to do just that.