As I write, Aiden O’Brien has seven entries in the Epsom Derby this coming weekend. SIX of those entries are sired by the currently unassailable Galileo, a stallion seemingly on track to beat even his sire Saddlers Wells’ stud record. The only Ballydoyle runner not by him is Wings of Eagles – by Pour Moi who’s grandfather was Saddlers Wells. You see the connection?
Add this to the fact that the four classics to be run in the UK and Ireland thus far in 2017 have ALL been won by O’Brien trained horses, all sired by Galileo! And all owned by the various partners who also have interests in the seat of this great breeding empire; Coolmore, in Ireland. It makes sense that when you have access to the best sire in the world, of course you are going to exploit that advantage. But do not forget that you also need the trainer to get
the horses into the frame. And boy have they found him in Aiden O’Brien.
No relation to the great Vincent O’Brien who previously oversaw the many successes of the team in the 70’s and 80’s, Aiden has delivered more success than any other trainer currently in business anywhere in the world. From his training base at Ballydoyle he has consistently won the best races in both the UK and Ireland, but also around the world.
In so doing he has been able to show Galileo, and his sire sons, can produce horses capable of winning over sprint distances as well as marathons. That makes him not only
key to the racing interests of his employers, but also to the continued success of their Coolmore operation throughout the world.
Some say that the grip on the Group races which O’Brien enjoys is unhealthy for racing; that the almost certainty that an O’Brien horse will win every Irish group race (to the extent that a number of races attract an exclusive Ballydoyle field!), and that he looks set, even at this early stage of the UK flat season, to be champion trainer for 2017.
However, it is hardly the fault of O’Brien that there is no Irish trainer other than perhaps Dermot Weld, who can compete at the highest levels on the flat. Even David Wachman, related to O’Brien through marriage and supplied with a string of horses from Coolmore, gave up his licence last year. It is more likely a reflection on the issues facing racing in Ireland as a whole not the fault of Team Ballydoyle. Particularly given the number of trainers from over the water who have given up in the last year alone. Indeed it is this team which is in all likelihood keeping much of Irish racing in business and of importance to the racing world. Without this awareness it would not take long for Irish flat racing to suffer the same death throes we are seeing in the increasingly troubled, and less high profile Italian racing scene. Happily Irish jumps are in a better state but this is seeing a crystallisation with major studs and owners polarising with only a small band of trainers.
In Britain, there are of course trainers and owners who can compete with – and indeed beat- the Ballydoyle / Coolmore steam-roller. But even these compete with horses who have pedigrees dripping with Galileo and his sons – Frankel, Galileo’s most successful son, being the next most “popular” sire of the 2017 Derby entries!
For me there are a number of trainers who epitomise the characteristics of what a trainer should be. Yes winners are a good measure, but there is also the ability to talk to
the public, to develop a story to follow, to combine passion whilst speaking with humility and professionalism. And when Aiden O’Brien speaks he does so with all this and more. He is a real ambassador for Irish, and increasingly International racing. Never slow to deflect the glory onto his owners, or jockeys or staff he is quietly spoken and avoids any suggestion that his input has had anything to do with it. Ballydoyle are THE team to beat, from the breeding sheds of Coolmore to the raceday successes – many ridden by the best jockey in the world, Ryan Moore. Indeed as with the Coolmore stud line, O’Brien himself has bred another successful trainer in his son Joseph – at 24 a Group winning jockey and trainer with the same brand of humility and determination seen in his father.
BUT – as readers may recall from my article back in February, breeders increasingly face a narrowing choice of stallion pedigrees to choose from. Danehill (Coolmore again) and his sire line are cornering the market in sprinters, whilst as mentioned above Galileo and his sire line are competing at the classic distances. This is where the concern should be focused, not at a trainer who has a gift – albeit with the best bred horses – to deliver winner after winner at the highest level. As already stated, it makes sense for Coolmore to exploit the successes of Galileo’s offspring but we must not end up with even less choice for breeders, and a gene pool which will inevitably become so shallow that it will jeopardise the future of the thoroughbred racehorse. Non-Galileo sires are out there and should be used too. Their success as sires will come with numbers, as they have with Galileo for he too has had his failures on the racecourse, but he has the numbers, and the trainer, to outweigh these.