Trainer Aidan O'Brien's 1-2-3 in the Arc is one of racing's greatest feats
However, with the greatest respect to the bearded, buccaneering golfer from Washington and the revered rider, a champion jockey in all bar name if ever I saw one, they were both, somehow, upstaged.
For the day belonged instead to one Aidan Patrick O’Brien, horse-race training phenomenon who, 14 days before his 47th birthday, entered the realms of superstardom, if he wasn’t a fully paid-up member already, by saddling the first three home in the Arc. He was king of Chantilly and deserved the keys to the spectacular chateau that borders the track.
Just winning the greatest Flat race in the world is hard enough -- as O’Brien himself knows, having sent out only the one previous victor (Dylan Thomas in 2007) among his array of Group One successes. To train the second and third too ranks as an achievement that sits in the same stratosphere as Michael Dickinson’s feat in sending out the first five home in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup. For Bregawn, Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck and Ashley House, read FOUND, HIGHLAND REEL and ORDER OF ST GEORGE.
How fitting too that O’Brien engineered his feat in the week racing stopped to celebrate the 20th anniversary of another scarcely credible sequence, Frankie Dettori’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ at Ascot -- and that the irresistible Italian played his part by booting home the third. Alongside Wall Street, Diffident, Mark Of Esteem, Decorated Hero, Fatefully, Lochangel and Fujiyama Crest, Frankie can now reserve a special place on his CV for Order Of St George.
Racing widely acknowledges Vincent O’Brien as the greatest trainer ever to grace the sport. After all, here was a man who not only saddled six horses to win the Derby and mastered three Arcs, he also won three Grand Nationals, four Cheltenham Gold Cups and three Champion Hurdles.
Such staggering versatility will never be matched by his successor at the powerbase that is Coolmore although, it should never be forgotten, that he was responsible for a Champion Hurdle hat-trick with Istabraq. But the genius that is Aidan is beginning to scale the same unprecedented heights.
Clearly, the support of a breeding operation so expertly handled by the Magnier, Tabor and Smith clan is a massive help. And when such an operation produces a stallion of such overwhelming influence as Galileo, sire of all three of the Arc heroes on Sunday, you’re laughing. But as a horseman with an instinctive feel, a rigid attention to detail and a profound understanding of a horse’s development, O’Brien has no peers.
Notwithstanding his remarkable record since he took up residence at the Ballydoyle Stables of Tipperary 20 years ago, he is often mocked by the parasites of social media who ridicule his quietly spoken, teetotal manner, his references to ‘the lads’ and his tendency to emphasise how much speed horses bred for middle-distances are showing at home.
He deserves more respect, both as a trainer and as a man. He is rarely anything but ultra-helpful with the public and the media, and his racing-steeped family -- wife Anne-Marie and four children, Joseph, Sarah, Ana and Donnacha -- conduct themselves in a way many in the game would be wise to follow.
Witness this small, but relevant, example from my own personal memory-bank. I bumped into jockey-turned-trainer Joseph while walking the course at Aintree’s Grand National meeting in April. He didn’t know me from Adam and could easily have brushed me aside with a grunt and a groan when I tentatively enquired whether his brilliant Triumph Hurdle winner, IVANOVICH GORBATOV, would handle the rain-softened ground. He could not have been more responsive or polite and chatted happily.
The victory of Found also spoke volumes for the O’Brien training methods. He and ‘the lads’ took a lot of stick last season for seemingly wrapping crack miler Gleneagles in cotton wool. But their default policy is generally to run, and to stay in training at 4yo and beyond.
Found has been an utterly admirable filly from the day she won on her debut at The Curragh in August 2014. Only once since then has she strayed out of Group company and Sunday’s gig was her 14th Group One dinner at the top table.
A tally of ten seconds invites one of racing’s most lazily-used theories that questions gameness. In fact, in Found’s case, it reflects consistency and durability, both of which combined with class to propel her to victory at Chantilly.
Backing her was not easy, given that she had to reverse a four-and-a-half length deficit with the favourite, POSTPONED, from the Coronation Cup at Epsom in June. Roger Varian’s colt had also slammed Highland Reel each time they had met, underlining how far below standard he ran on Sunday. Maybe he paid the price for being on the go since Meydan in the spring. Or maybe the stand-out piece of form, which many of us ignored, was Found’s clinical eclipse of the 2015 Arc winner, Golden Horn, in the Breeders’ Cup last October.
Astonishingly, her win at Keeneland capped an autumn in which she also tackled the Irish Champion, the Arc and the Champion Stakes at Ascot -- all inside the space of 49 days. Only horses with the constitution of an ox can cope with that. And, of course, it doesn’t half help when the man responsible for your hay is called A.P. O’Brien.
Do the numbers add up in the big Willie Mullins/Gigginstown House split?
While the greatest Flat trainer in Europe was basking in the limelight at Chantilly, the greatest Jumps trainer, Willie Mullins, was reflecting on publicity of a different nature after the removal of 60 horses from his yard by leading owners, Gigginstown House Stud, fronted by Michael O’Leary, of Ryanair fame. Ostensibly, the decision stems from a disagreement over training fees, which Mullins has raised for the first time in ten years -- by 35 euros per week. Presumably then, O’Leary has crunched the numbers and determined that he would no longer get value for money from the Closutton operation. For the record, those numbers, since Mullins and Gigginstown joined forces in 2011, also read: 158 winners, a 33% strike rate, 16 Grade One wins, four Cheltenham Festival win and 11 Punchestown Festival victories.