Monday 20 November 2017

Don't expect Aidan O'Brien to vacate Ballydoyle set-up any time soon

Coolmore (No 2) wins the CL & MF Weld Stakes under Joseph O’Brien yesterday
Coolmore (No 2) wins the CL & MF Weld Stakes under Joseph O’Brien yesterday
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

In recent weeks the rumours surrounding Aidan O'Brien's position at Ballydoyle have oscillated between reasonable speculation and wholly unsubstantiated "exclusives".

Circumstances prevented this corner from commenting on the conjecture, although there was also a reluctance to become embroiled in frivolous kite-flying. Because my understanding of the situation, informed to a degree but probably no more so than most, is that is the extent of what has been happening.

Kites have been from floated from various corners, including, seemingly, from within Ballydoyle. The story goes that O'Brien was disgruntled by Ryan Moore's appointment as Coolmore's No 1 rider - strange as that sounds.

In short, weight problems and a couple of contentious defeats contributed to Joseph O'Brien's demotion. Australia's inexplicable 2014 Irish Champion Stakes defeat, inspired by Moore aboard The Grey Gatsby, apparently constituted a fatal reversal for one or more of the central figureheads in the Coolmore hierarchy. Thereafter, Moore was headhunted with renewed vigour.

Not for the first time, O'Brien Jnr returned overweight after being narrowly beaten in a Group One, and that simply isn't an acceptable practice for the world's most influential Flat racing and breeding firm on an ongoing basis. His status as stable jockey had become somewhat unfeasible at best and untenable at worst, in the sense that his increasingly unequal battle with the scales created too much instability.

This year, O'Brien Snr has often emphasised publicly the pivotal role that he saw Joseph as having played in his horses' preparations, noticeably at Royal Ascot, where Moore excelled with nine wins.

It was also at the royal meeting that O'Brien mused on Channel 4 how his obsessive attention to detail meant that neither he nor his wife Anne Marie had ever been able to appreciate the exotic far-flung destinations, be it Longchamp, California or Melbourne, whose tracks they had visited routinely.

Whether or not there was an intention on his part to remind his employers of his devotion to the collective cause, there was an inevitable sense that his comments carried a certain subtext. Thereafter, the story grew legs.

The talk was of tension between O'Brien and some of the Coolmore partners, with the decision not to declare Gleneagles for the Sussex Stakes, when the ground turned out to be good, understood to be a source of considerable friction. The name of David O'Meara (left) was soon thrown into the mix. Like O'Brien in the early 1990s, O'Meara's rapid ascent has seen him earmarked for a gig worthy of his talents.

At York in August, the British media got a whiff of the scent and got a little carried away in their prophecies. The suggestion was that O'Meara would replace O'Brien ahead of the 2016 season, and, given the Tipperary firm's established policy of not commenting on conjecture, it was left to the Cork-born, Yorkshire-based handler to refute that there was any substance to the link. That he did, and to this day I haven't seen nor heard anything to suggest otherwise.


On August 8, I outlined here how Joseph O'Brien had been overseeing the preparation of his father's jumpers at their original yard in Co Kilkenny. He had been going to Owning on a daily basis after riding out in Ballydoyle, and the jumpers' improved results is a testament to his stewardship.

My best guess then and now is that he will train from there, although a licence may not materialise until he quits riding. Maybe that will be in 2016, or maybe it will be further off.

What is clear is that, with the other three handlers who had been renting stables at the Owning yard asked to vacate the premises, the O'Briens' jumps team is going to expand.

There could be between 80 and 120 horses there next year, and JP McManus is understood to be entirely supportive of the operation. That is surely relevant. McManus and Magnier are close associates, and, if there were any meaningful falling-out between O'Brien and the one remaining founding member of the Coolmore superpower, McManus would hardly facilitate O'Brien's exit strategy.

The notion that Coolmore would seek to replace O'Brien with someone else just doesn't stack up. For all his eccentricities and his undeniable inability to maintain lasting working relationships with world-class riders like Mick Kinane, Jamie Spencer and Johnny Murtagh, he is an absolute master of his profession. Year on year, he produces the future stallions that keep Coolmore's multi-million-euro empire spinning. That is the key.

Maybe there are trainers out there that could do the job equally as well given the same blue-chip raw material. However, it is an intensely high-pressured environment, and I don't think there is anyone that could do better the job that O'Brien does.

The other suggestion, of course, is that O'Brien might walk. It has been speculated that the expansion of his Owning yard constitutes the groundwork for his departure, but O'Brien isn't going to get the same professional satisfaction out of training jumpers on the hill as he does out of preparing elite Flat horses to compete at the highest level on a global stage. Accepting that I'm open to being left with egg all over my face, I just don't see it.

The yard on the hill in Owning is surely there for the next generation to utilise. Maybe O'Brien has been guilty of some posturing to remind his employers of his and his family's worth, but that only serves to reinforce the sense that he is staying. Put it this way, if he were looking to formulate his exit, he wouldn't be doing so in public.

Intentional moves the real problem

The decision to re-award Simple Verse the St Leger on appeal was not surprising. Why?

Because it is consistent with every similar high-profile British case. Lord Windermere kept a Gold Cup despite carrying On His Own across the track and Elusive Kate did likewise in a Falmouth.

At Doncaster, Simple Verse was the best horse in the race, but she improved her position as a result of Andrea Atzeni's manoeuvres, which saw Bondi Beach broadsided.

In Britain, in particular, the benefit of the doubt lies with the first past the post, as it is practically impossible to "prove" that the victim in such instances would have won without interference. Inevitably, there is a sense of injustice when a horse is narrowly beaten after being impeded.

However, injustices also prevail in the US and France where the rules are black and white. Horses don't race in lanes so there will always be interference. The crux of what happened at Doncaster is that Atzeni made a deliberate move in order to win the race, knowing he would impede a rival. He will also have known that it wouldn't cost him the race, and, in the end, it didn't. Incidences of intentional interference should be dealt with more stringently.

Treve will need to be very good

An on-song Treve is odds-on to complete an unprecedented Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe hat-trick.

What a race is in store at Longchamp on Sunday, though. Representing a stunning Classic crop will be Golden Horn, Jack Hobbs, New Bay and Found, with last year's second Flintshire and Free Eagle also in there. Sacré bleu!

Misery in Merano for Mullins team

Willie Mullins' weekend foray to Merano didn't go at all well.

Thousand Stars misfired in the Italian Champion Hurdle under Ruby Walsh and Perfect Gentleman suffered a fatal injury over fences.

Tweet of the weekend

Richard Fahey (@RichardFahey)

Yes!!!!! Third Time Lucky wins the Cambridgeshire. He showed a fantastic attitude and battled all the way

- The Co Louth native's glorious run continued with the Adam Beschizza-ridden 14/1 shot at Newmarket.

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