Sport Horse Racing

Friday 21 September 2018

O'Brien closing in on Frankel record

Four more Group One wins will see 47-year-old rewrite history books

Clemmie, with Ryan Moore up, on the way to winning The Juddmonte Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Clemmie, with Ryan Moore up, on the way to winning The Juddmonte Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Johnny Ward

These days as he snares another Group One, TV viewers are treated to a barrage of tributes to foot soldiers - the workers in Ballydoyle that few, if any of us, have ever met.

To borrow lyrics from the haunting 'There Were Roses', "those who give the orders are not the ones to die".

Aidan O'Brien knows that he is the public face of an enormous operation in which little works without delegating. Whereas he never criticises his horses, like a blood-blinded mother hounding the under-10s coach on the sideline, he is equally certain not to praise himself.

"I messed up," he may say after purportedly running one too soon. There is, then, the relentless pursuit for better. A la Brian Cody, last week's three-course dinner is no good now.

As an English journalist noted at Newmarket on Saturday, he "never rests on his laurels; his fidgety demeanour suggests he never rests at all".

Years ago, he spoke about staying awake as long as possible to maximise the potential of each day.

To beat Frankel, O’Brien will be reliant on victories on Champions Day in Newmarket later this month and at the Breeders’ Cup. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
To beat Frankel, O’Brien will be reliant on victories on Champions Day in Newmarket later this month and at the Breeders’ Cup. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

It was at Newmarket that O'Brien's chance of achieving a feat that would etch in stone his greatness became all the more realistic.

Clemmie (Cheveley Park) and US Navy Flag (Middle Park) were victorious, putting him on 20 Group/Grade One wins for 2017.

The worldwide record is 25, achieved by American Bobbie Frankel, whose name was further immortalised when a certain horse hit the track in England.

After Clemmie's superb Cheveley Park win - a first Galileo-bred Group One winner over six furlongs - O'Brien said a trip to the Breeders' Cup would be no bother to the sister of Churchill, which may also be on that ticket.


"I'm only a small part of it," he said yesterday in Chantilly. "Also, extra special is that a lot of those (Group One winners) are home-bred mares. Everyone works very hard at it - Coolmore and Ballydoyle - day in, day out and I get great pleasure out of watching everyone else's happiness when things go right."

Yesterday was an afternoon when the hosts drew a quite incredible blank. Nor did the French breed a single winner.

O'Brien, meanwhile, brought the tally to 21 when Happily scored in Paris.

This emphasises the power of the fillies that he has. To take on the colts and win - the promising Gustav Klimt finished for the term - was a hell of an achievement. And it was 22 as Rhododendron edged stablemate Hydrangea to provide him with his first Prix de l'Opera win.

O'Brien's team is, to borrow a cushy comparison, Paris Saint-Germain to another man's Athlone Town - but there can be little doubting his genius.

Perhaps the wider sporting public will never appreciate it but he is also an incredible ambassador for the country: humble, from a relatively ordinary background and his lifestyle reflected in that it was only yesterday I first saw a speck of grey in his hair.

To beat Frankel, O'Brien will be reliant on victories on Champions Day in Newmarket later this month and at the Breeders' Cup, while there is also the option of going to Hong Kong.

Between last year's Arc and the end of 2017, he enjoyed four Group One victories.

When he insisted some years ago when in a similarly challenging position that the record would have no bearing on horses' plans, he meant it. Business is business, a potential record an aside.

Speaking of records, that Enable could make it six wins for fillies out of the last seven renewals in the Arc was astounding - as was her performance, if not exactly unexpected.

Three-year-old fillies get a healthy allowance, especially considering its timing, and there is a well-founded argument that the 10lb she got off her three most immediate victims is too much.

That said, revised weights would not have stopped the filly at Chantilly, the performance of which was more notable as she raced quite keenly.

Tactically, the race went next to perfectly for Frankie Dettori, and with the best ones it is a case of making sure nothing goes wrong.

If Enable is extraordinary, so is You'resothrilling, Happily's mother. Only eight mares have produced four or more Group/Grade One-winning offspring and, given that she has also spawned Gleneagles and Marvellous, she could yet become the greatest broodmare of all time.

She, after all, is only 12. Like the man who trained her, she has time on her side.

Keogh's Far-Eastern pursuits can pay off

A couple of things struck this unfamiliar visitor to the Arc's temporary dwelling yesterday: the striking, armed army and police presence - on a day when terror later struck in Marseille - and that every second person seemed to be Japanese.

A massive media presence from the 'Land of the Rising Sun' evinced the huge interest in racing over there and it made one wonder what Irish Champions Weekend might be like were the track to attract a Japanese runner.

A Tourism Ireland Japanese language website was launched last year to capitalise on a growing market for Irish tourism, though the 20,000 or so Japanese tourists who visit Ireland every year represent crumbs of the nearly 18 million trips taken abroad annually by Japanese tourists.

Pat Keogh, Leopardstown CEO, made every attempt to entice the Japanese horse Kitasan Black to run at Leopardstown this year.

"Japanese fans follow their individual horses almost as people follow soccer here. So when a horse runs in Europe, that horse's fans would come along with wider Japanese fans," said Keogh, who is travelling to Japan on Friday week "to commence the drive for next year". Sheikh's new Elliott axis

Journalists in the Chantilly media room were treated to calorie-heavy French cuisine, appallingly bad Wi-Fi and a wallet inscribed 'Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe'.

Qatar was in the news last week when Gordon Elliott made the shock announcement that, as well as training Flat recruits Brutal and Pallasator for Sheikh Fahad Al-Thani of the nation's royal family, he would also look after a couple of bumper horses for the Sheikh.

This was perplexing until it emerged that the Sheikh, described as Elliott by "dead sound" and with a few traits that would be considered more Irish than Qatari, is planning to ride the bumper horses in the old Corinthian manner.

Ride of the week

"It was a serious ride," commented trainer Peter Fahey after Ruby Walsh lifted Small World home at Clonmel on Thursday, to the joy of backers of the 9/4 favourite. Nearer last than first coming into the straight, Walsh timed it brilliantly, as he did when giving him a similarly patient ride at Downpatrick in August.

Gamble of the week

One could hardly blame bookmakers who put up the Dermot McLoughlin-trained Ballymadun at 33/1 in the morning ahead of his third handicap start at Gowran on Friday but the Conor Maxwell-ridden horse was cut in price and further support saw the half-length winner sent off 9/1 on track.

Quote of the week

"I hope we're late for the airport, we'll stay for the week and you'll run out of wine."

- John Gosden after the win of Enable.

Tweet of the week

Jay (@mufc_fan_saf)

Registered on HRI under the owner Patrick Mullins, the love-child of Miguel Angel and Airlie Beach has been aptly named 'Accidental'

This one was born after an X-rated tryst. Connections thought the cheap purchase, Miguel Angel, had been gelded, but he knew otherwise - and so did Airlie Beach soon after they were put in a field together.

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