With Aidan O’Brien just about anything is possible

Recently, in the Racing Post, Tom Segal described Aidan O’Brien as "the best flat trainer in my lifetime.’’

With Aidan O’Brien just about anything is possible

Now, whether that lifetime includes Vincent O’Brien I’m not sure, but, in any case, Segal’s observation is not one with which I would overly quibble.

I was lucky enough to be around for most of Vincent’s big race victories, at least on the flat, and one of the great joys, as a relatively young man, was visiting Ballydoyle when he was in charge.

He had an extraordinary aura about him and you always felt you were simply in the presence of greatness.

I never, ever, expected Ireland to produce another trainer who might be spoken about in the same way, but then Aidan arrived and he has achieved just about everything there is to achieve in the game, often many times over, and he is still only 45.

I don’t know whether Vincent or Aidan is the greatest of all time and it doesn’t really matter.

What this country, and Ballydoyle, has given us is two men to be celebrated. Vincent was a genius and Aidan is a genius.

Royal Ascot emphasised that when it comes to Aidan just about anything is possible.

In March, Willie Mullins had a record breaking eight winners at Cheltenham.

His horses had been in terrific form throughout the winter and he saddled a number of bankers.

Literally, everyone knew Mullins was going to emerge from the festival as the leading trainer and the only question that had to be answered was just how many successes he would enjoy.

In contrast, you could not say that O’Brien’s horses were exactly flying on the lead in to Ascot.

He isn’t even, for instance, the leading trainer in Ireland at the moment, trailing Dermot Weld by over €100,000.

Essentially, O’Brien had just one horse that could be regarded as a banker and that was Gleneagles in the St James’ Palace Stakes.

Otherwise, he was on something of a wing and prayer and, if Gleneagles was beaten, it would not have been the shock of the century had O’Brien drawn a blank for the week.

So, to see him finish as the leading trainer, by a mile, with five winners was nothing short of amazing.

He managed to win with some horses that really had no right to win, headed by Waterloo Bridge in the Norfolk Stakes on the Thursday.

Let’s call a spade a spade, Waterloo Bridge shaped as a bit of a dog in his four races here at home.

His last outing before Ascot was at Tipperary when he had six modest rivals to beat.

The son of Zoffany could have been backed at even money that evening, but many of us refused to be with him, on the basis he wasn’t to be trusted.

Waterloo Bridge did eventually score, by a scrambling head from the well beaten in the meantime, Gift Wrap, and then survived a stewards’ inquiry, after edging to his right when the pressure was applied.

The faster pace and better ground surely played to his strengths at Ascot, but to see him sweep through late and cut down a pair of highly regarded Richard Hannon-trained horses was a hard outcome to fathom.

And then there was O’Brien’s War Envoy, who defied 9-6 to land the fiercely competitive 28-runner Britannia Stakes.

I think there were plenty of us who had him in the same dog category as Waterloo Bridge.

I’ve heard it said he was taking a big drop in class, having previously contested both the French 2000 Guineas and Derby.

He actually performed well enough when seventh in the Guineas at Longchamp, but then made no show when last of 14 in the Derby at Chantilly.

The old maxim has it that you should keep yourself in the best of company and your horses in the worst. Basically, it’s the best way to get a horse well handicapped.

On that basis there was obviously no sinister plot to War Envoy’s mark, no just a trainer who had him singing for the big occasion and a more realistic target.

When you look at the Ascot results in depth, you discover that it could have been even better for O’Brien, who also saddled four seconds.

You could, for instance, argue that his Kingfisher and Ballydoyle should have won and Found was only chinned in the final strides.

O’Brien possesses an innate ability to have his horses primed to perfection for the major days and, you might reason, given his age, is really only getting warmed up!


The worst kept secret in racing was finally revealed this week, with Barry Geraghty replacing Tony McCoy as retained jockey to J P McManus.

It was entirely predictable that once McManus wanted Geraghty, it would be a done deal.

For Geraghty to turn down McManus would have been madness. We all thought, for instance, McCoy would never leave Martin Pipe, but money, real money, talks.

The timing is right for Geraghty as well with the Nicky Henderson yard apparently nowhere near as strong as it was, with Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig no longer of any relevance.

We can only guess at the Geraghty retainer, but it is likely to be mighty substantial, to say the least.

I doubt, just like McCoy, that he will ever again see a poor day!

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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

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