Monday 23 April 2018

Ana's fall could have been 'total' - Aidan O'Brien opens up on daughter's horror fall

Ana O'Brien
Ana O'Brien
Aidan O'Brien's string on the Ballydoyle gallops with a snow-covered Slievenamon in the background Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Michael Verney

One of the first things you notice about Aidan O'Brien is that the word 'I' is not part of his vocabulary.

Not once in the course of two hours at the famous Ballydoyle Stables does the individual come into the equation and everything about the operation epitomises a team effort led by their modest and humble maestro.

Among the numerous lots put through their paces were the likes of Racing Post Trophy winner Saxon Warrior, British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes victor Hydrangea and St Leger winner Capri but the calibre of work rider was even more noticeable.

Seamus Heffernan, Wayne Lordan, Paul Moloney, Nina Carberry, Michael Hussey and the trainer's son Donnacha were just a handful of the experienced hands guiding many of racing's biggest stars as "information is king" with their input and advice paramount to the yard's many triumphs.

Not only does O'Brien listen to his staff but he also listens closely to his horses on the gallops every day. To hear him describe and imitate how an animal should sound when in flow is a sight to behold; it's the sign of a man totally at one with his craft.

Before going to bed every night, O'Brien always visits the yard closest to his home - which has housed some of the game's finest talents in the last 20 years - while he is constantly informed of the goings-on in the yard via a walkie-talkie which is rarely quiet.

Having secured a record-breaking 28th Group One success last season to eclipse Bobby Frankel's long-standing record of 25, it's a fitting location for the launch of the new Irish Flat season, which commences Sunday with a cracking card at Naas.

Having rewritten history over the past 12 months, there's any amount of victories that O'Brien could look back on with pride but one dwarfed anything that happened on the track throughout the season.

Shock

The racing world was in shock last July when his daughter Ana was airlifted to Cork University Hospital, having fractured vertebrae in her back and neck after a horrible fall at Killarney.

Eight months later and Ana is back riding out work on a daily basis with her health the only concern of her father, who she now assists with some training duties. "It was one of those things where really nothing else mattered," O'Brien says.

"All the stuff we do every day ... everything we do, we work so can we can have enough money and feed ourselves to stay alive but really it's all only stuff, that sort of thing doesn't matter. What happened Ana, it could have been total," he adds before not contemplating what might have been.

"We were just so lucky. The alternative is terrible so thank God she's great. When you go to that place it just takes everything into perspective.

"Ana doesn't remember anything about it for a couple of weeks after it, she'd have stuff on her phone and say she can't remember any of this so thank God she's OK. And she's a massive help to me.

"There's a lot of stuff Ana can do and everything is going good, please God. She's rode out. Sarah (his other daughter) stayed at home to mind her rather than going to America. Ana has rode out one lot the last few mornings and we're taking it day by day."

O'Brien's family affection is matched only by his love of horses and his understanding of equine psychology.

"When you get up in the morning you mightn't always want to see another human being, but you'd be delighted to see your pet," he says.

"The very unusual thing about horses is if you want to know what someone's personality is really like, you put them on a horse for three weeks and that horse will develop the personality of the human being which is a very strange thing.

"It's the connection that's there. If the person is grumpy, the horse can become grumpy. If the person is very happy, the horse becomes very happy."

Few prizes have eluded the 48-year-old in a glittering training career but one that remains on the bucket list is the Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the US Triple Crown, with Mendelssohn aimed at the lucrative pot on May 5.

"Those kind of races, you don't ever expect to win them but you try," he says.

"You're going over to the other side of the world and pitching into a different culture of racing totally, everything is different. You do your best and when you fail you look at what you can learn and go again but you'd be naive to think you can go there and win."

Failures have been few in O'Brien's career and that attitude proves why.

Irish Independent

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