Our ‘2017 Wrapped’ articles this week, looking at the racing year in review, would not be complete without some mention of the brilliant Aidan O’Brien who has had one of the best seasons in his illustrious career and possibly the best season imaginable for any trainer that there has ever been.
When it comes to the master of Ballydoyle the racing world has come to expect him to win multiple group 1s and classics in a single season as well as having a whole host of superstar horses at his disposal. A lot of people would crack under the pressure that O’Brien faces day in day out with the responsibility of creating the next throng of racing legends and being unquestionably expected to do so, and yet Aidan performs year after year to a standard that exceeds even our wildest dreams. Every year we approach the flat season with a general idea of which horses are going to take a starring role in which races and this year was no different, although I think that very few people would have been able to have predicted exactly what would happen in 2017 – a year that was packed full of surprises.
For Aidan O’Brien, the year got off to a flying start. Wins in both the English and Irish 1000 and 2000 Guineas with Winter and Churchill. Winter was possibly the biggest surprise of the season as she came from nowhere as a two year old to become a four time group 1 winner. Churchill had the complete opposite introduction to the racing public as he burst onto the scene when winning the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot before winning the National Stakes and the Dewhurst Stakes at the end of 2016. A lot was expected of Churchill in 2017 and he certainly delivered in the early classics holding Barney Roy off at Newmarket and then winning easily at the Curragh a few weeks later. It was an incredible feat by any means to stand unbeaten in the first four classics of the season – in fact the classics proved very profitable hunting ground for the Ballydoyle team as it was only Enable in both the Epsom and Irish Oaks that prevented them from making a clean sweep of every single Classic in the British and Irish racing calendar. Success with Wings Of Eagles in the Derby, Capri in the Irish Derby and St Leger and Order Of St George in the Irish St Leger also followed later in the season to add to Aidan O’Brien’s success.
But it wasn’t just classics that O’Brien was sending out winners in, he won 6 races at Royal Ascot with success for Highland Reel (Prince Of Wales), Sioux Nation (Norfolk), Caravaggio (Commonwealth), Winter (Coronation), September (Chesham) and Idaho (Hardwicke). It was an uncharacteristic slow start to the Royal meeting for the team, though, as they failed to send out a winner on day 1 as Churchill disappointed in the St James’ Palace Stakes – but that soon changed as Highland Reel showed his typical toughness and bravery to win the Prince Of Wales’ Stakes, following on from his Coronation Cup success at Epsom just a few weeks earlier, for which he only arrived at the course an hour before he was due to run due to problems with transport.
Other horses that must be mentioned that were impartial to the Ballydoyle success of 2017 included 3 time group 1 winner Roly Poly who won the Falmouth Stakes, the Prix Rothschild and the Sun Chariot Stakes as well as a number of high quality two year olds, Hydrangea and Rhododendron. The great Galileo, a Ballydoyle graduate, also deserves a mention as without him many of these horses would not even be here. His record is phenomenal and he continues to be synonymous in his partnership with Aidan O’Brien even sixteen years after his final race.
With all of this success there was only one thing on the minds of flat racing fans everywhere, the push for Aidan O’Brien to beat a record that had previously been set by Bobby Frankel, 25 group 1 wins in a single season. Aidan didn’t just beat that record, he destroyed it as success continued to present itself even after Saxon Warrior’s victory in the Racing Post Trophy registering his trainer’s 26th group 1 win of the season. This further success came at the Breeders Cup with Mendelssohn and in Hong Kong with the ever-reliable Highland Reel as he signed off his career with a tremendous victory overseas. After beating the great Bobby Frankel’s record at Doncaster, however, surrounded by his family O’Brien reflected all of the praise he received straight back to the team behind his success at Ballydoyle. You see, that’s the thing about Aidan O’Brien, no matter how much success he has he remains humble and thankful for what he has achieved and the hard work and talent of the team he works with day in day out.
When it comes to Aidan O’Brien there is simply no other trainer like him. He is a gentleman – humble, grateful and very down to earth. It is easy to see why many, including myself, consider him to be the greatest trainer there has ever been. Yes, it does help that he has the full force of Coolmore behind him, but it’s one thing to have the horses, it’s a completely different ball game to be able to train them to win time and time again. His success speaks for itself and in terms of how quickly he has risen through the ranks to get to the top of the mountain of horse racing where he now stands, the king of the castle, it cannot be emphasised enough how brilliant an achievement that actually is.
So what could possibly happen next in the Aidan O’Brien saga? What will he achieve in 2018? He has a number of exciting two year olds to look forward to such as US Navy Flag, Mendelssohn, September, Happily and Clemmie as well as some old favourites like Order Of St George and Capri. The high quality within his team of horses even leaves the racing world open to a lot of speculation, could he possibly top his record of 28 group 1 wins next season? With the form he has been in of late, I definitely wouldn’t dismiss that thought.