The breakdown of Aidan O'Brien's unprecedented haul
Aidan O'Brien's monumental world record of 26 Group or Grade 1 wins by a trainer in one year is for Flat-race victories only. The overall world record, Flat and jumps combined, is 34 by Willie Mullins.
Bobby Frankel set the previous Flat record of 25 in 2003, the last of the five seasons in which he won the Eclipse Award as US champion trainer.
The biggest contributor to his record was Sightseek, a filly who won four Grade 1s that year including the Beldame Stakes.
But his two best horses were Aldebaran (Racing Post Rating 128), who won an Eclipse Award (as top sprinter after winning the Metropolitan Handicap), and Empire Maker (RPR 129), who should have done.
Empire Maker beat Funny Cide 2-1 in their three meetings, notably in the Belmont Stakes. But Funny Cide beat him in the Kentucky Derby and also won the Preakness, so the Eclipse voters misguidedly chose him as champion three-year-old male.
That year the Hall of Fame trainer also had Milwaukee Brew (Santa Anita Handicap) and Spoken Fur (Coaching Club of America Oaks), but the best horse in his barn turned out to be Ghostzapper (Vosburgh Stakes), whose unbeaten campaign the following season made him the trainer's only Horse of the Year.
Frankel, who died in 2009, failed to win at the Breeders' Cup in 2003 (his Medaglia D'Oro was second in the Classic) whereas Aidan O'Brien struck in the Turf with dead-heater High Chaparral.
Eight of O'Brien's 26 Group 1 victories in 2017 have come in Classics. Indeed, he has set a record by winning eight of the ten British and Irish Classics in one year.
If Enable had not run in the Oaks and Irish Oaks, O'Brien would have won all ten. Churchill, Winter and Capri won two each.
O'Brien's horse who has won the most Group 1s this year is Winter, with four.
Yet so far it has not been a vintage year for the stable in terms of equine performances as measured by RPRs. The best have been Churchill (Irish 2,000 Guineas) and Order Of St George (Irish St Leger), both rated 125.
By that criterion they are not among the 20 best horses O'Brien has ever trained, and not as good as Frankel's top stars of 2003.
The main reason for O'Brien's record is simple: grade inflation. Group 1 status has been bestowed on more and more races over the years, and has therefore been devalued.
Five of the fillies' races won by O'Brien this year have been promoted to Group 1 since 2003, and the Commonwealth Cup is a new race.
In addition, O'Brien has been helped by having multiple runners in many Group 1s. He ran six in the Derby and won with fifth-string Wings Of Eagles. He has had more than twice as many runners in top-level races as Frankel had in 2003.
An American observer might also be sceptical about the overall world record (Flat and jumps combined) being held by a jumps trainer who scored many of his victories in races that were uncompetitive.
Mullins holds the record with 34 top-level victories – whether the basis of calculation is a season (jumps 2015-16) or a calendar year (33 over jumps and one on the Flat in 2016).
The biggest contributor to his calendar-year record was Douvan, with five Grade 1 victories, and he also had Vautour, Faugheen, Annie Power, Apple's Jade and Djakadam.
His sole Group 1 winner on the Flat was Wicklow Brave, who beat Order Of St George in the Irish St Leger.
26 steps to the world record
Aidan O'Brien's top-level wins this year
1 Churchill, 2,000 Guineas, Newmarket, May 6, Ryan Moore, 6-4f
2 Winter, 1,000 Guineas, Newmarket, May 7, Wayne Lordan, 9-1
3 Churchill, Irish 2,000 Guineas, Curragh, May 27, Ryan Moore, 4-9f
4 Winter, Irish 1,000 Guineas, Curragh, May 28, Ryan Moore, 8-13f
5 Highland Reel, Coronation Cup, Epsom, June 2, Ryan Moore, 9-4f
6 Wings Of Eagles, Derby, Epsom, June 3, Padraig Beggy, 40-1
7 Highland Reel, Prince of Wales’s Stakes, Ascot, June 21, Ryan Moore, 9-4
8 Caravaggio, Commonwealth Cup, Ascot, June 23, Ryan Moore, 5-6f
9 Winter, Coronation Stakes, Ascot, June 23, Ryan Moore, 4-9f
10 Capri, Irish Derby, Curragh, July 1, Seamie Heffernan, 6-1
11 Roly Poly, Falmouth Stakes, Newmarket, July 14, Ryan Moore, 6-4f
12 Roly Poly, Prix Rothschild, Deauville, July 30, Ryan Moore, 16-5
13 Winter, Nassau Stakes, Goodwood, August 3, Ryan Moore, 10-11f
14 Sioux Nation, Phoenix Stakes, Curragh, August 13, Ryan Moore, 2-1
15 Hydrangea, Matron Stakes, Leopardstown, September 9, Wayne Lordan, 20-1
16 Happily, Moyglare Stud Stakes, Curragh, September 10, Donnacha O’Brien, 13-2
17 Order Of St George, Irish St Leger, Curragh, September 10, Ryan Moore, 2-5f
18 Capri, St Leger, Doncaster, September 16, Ryan Moore, 3-1f
19 Clemmie, Cheveley Park Stakes, Newmarket, September 30, Ryan Moore, 15-8f
20 US Navy Flag, Middle Park Stakes, Newmarket, September 30, Seamie Heffernan, 10-1
21 Happily, Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, Chantilly, October 1, Ryan Moore, 7-5f
22 Rhododendron, Prix de l’Opera, Chantilly, October 1, Seamie Heffernan, 92-10
23 Roly Poly, Sun Chariot Stakes, Newmarket, October 7, Ryan Moore, 4-1
24 US Navy Flag, Dewhurst Stakes, Newmarket, October 14, Ryan Moore, 5-1
25 Hydrangea, Fillies & Mares Stakes, Ascot, October 21, Ryan Moore, 4-1
26 Saxon Warrior, Racing Post Trophy, Doncaster, October 28, Ryan Moore, 13-8f
As easy as 1-2-3 (or 4)
Aidan O'Brien's dominance in top-flight races on the Flat
1 Black Minnaloushe, Mozart & Minardi in 2001 Irish 2,000 Guineas
2 Rock Of Gibraltar, Landseer & Tendulkar in 2001 Dewhurst Stakes
3 Ballingarry, Castle Gandolfo & Black Sam Bellamy in 2001 Criterium de Saint-Cloud
4 Rock Of Gibraltar, Century City & Della Francesca in 2002 Irish 2,000 Guineas
5 High Chaparral, Sholokhov & Ballingarry in 2002 Irish Derby
6 Excellent Art, Duke Of Marmalade & Astronomer Royal in 2007 St James’s Palace Stakes
7 Soldier Of Fortune, Alexander Of Hales & Eagle Mountain in 2007 Irish Derby
8 Dylan Thomas, Duke Of Marmalade & Red Rock Canyon in 2007 Irish Champion Stakes
9 Cape Blanco, Midas Touch & Jan Vermeer in 2010 Irish Derby
10 Treasure Beach, Seville & Memphis Tennessee in 2011 Irish Derby
11 Australia, Kingfisher & Orchestra in 2014 Irish Derby
12 Minding, Ballydoyle & Alice Springs in 2015 Moyglare Stud Stakes
13 Minding, Ballydoyle & Alice Springs in 2016 1,000 Guineas
14 Found, Highland Reel & Order Of St George in 2016 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
15 Winter, Roly Poly & Hydrangea in 2017 Irish 1,000 Guineas
16 Happily, Magical & September in 2017 Moyglare Stud Stakes
17 US Navy Flag, Mendelssohn, Seahenge & Threeandfourpence in 2017 Dewhurst Stakes