Top level racing in Europe this past fortnight has been dominated by one man, Aidan O’Brien. Ireland’s champion trainer has won some of the summer’s most coveted Group 1 contests in both Ireland and Britain.
On Saturday week last (June 30), the Co. Wexford, Ireland-born handler trained the first four horses home in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby over a mile and four furlongs at The Curragh Racecourse, Co. Kildare, Ireland. When one considers this was the largest field (14) of horses to contest Ireland’s premier Classic since 1977, it makes O’Brien’s achievement even more incredible.
The 2/1 pre-race favourite, Santiago, ridden by Séamie Heffernan, delivered a 14th success in the Irish Derby for O’Brien. No, it is not a typing error; it was his 14th Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby victory! A head separated the winner, Santiago, from the runner-up, Tiger Moth (11/1), with Dawn Patrol (10/1) and Order Of Australia (33/1) third and fourth respectively.
When one considers that Aidan O’Brien has won so many editions of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, it might be easy to dismiss the fact that he won just another. What makes this achievement even more special is that the winner, Santiago, had won the Queen’s Vase over a longer distance (1m 6f) at Royal Ascot, England, only 11 days earlier. In Europe, it is very unusual, almost unheard of, for a horse to come down in distance to win a Derby; they usually go up in distance instead from a mile.
On the third day of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby Festival at The Curragh, an O’Brien favourite, Magical (5 m Galileo – Halfway To Heaven), a nine-time Stakes winner returned to action at the highest level with the favourite comfortably showing her superiority in winning the Alwasmiyah Pretty Polly Stakes for Fillies and Mares.
Fast forward to the Investec Derby at Epsom, England, last weekend, and the Irish champion trainer again took the spoils in both Group 1 contests.
Love (3 f Galileo – Pikaboo), who won June’s Group 1 QIPCO 1,000 Guineas over a mile at Newmarket, England, produced a scintillating display to win the Investec Oaks, becoming the 49th filly to claim the 1000 Guineas-Oaks double, and the first since the aforementioned Minding in 2016.
Love (11/10f), now a three-time winner at elite level, was ridden by English jockey Ryan Moore, as she defeated another O’Brien-trained filly, Ennistymon (named after a village in Co. Clare, Ireland) by a comprehensive nine-lengths at the wire, with Frankly Darling, winner of the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot, England, in June a further three-quarters of a length back in third.
O’Brien was enjoying an eighth win in the Investec Oaks, while Love’s sire, Galileo, who became the winning-most sire of Group/Grade 1 winners in June when passing Danehill’s record, saw his progeny taste a fourth success in the race following Was (2012), Minding (2016) and Together Forever (2018) – all of them trained by Aidan O’Brien.
Serpentine (3 c ex Remember When by Danehill Dancer) was a shock 25/1 winner of the Investec Derby at Epsom, England, last Saturday, handing Coolmore stallion Galileo an unprecedented fifth win in Britain’s premier Classic over 1m 4f. His previous wins came thanks to New Approach (2008), Ruler Of The World (2013), Australia (2014) and Anthony Van Dyck (2019). Each one, except New Approach, was trained by Breeders’ Cup regular Aidan O’Brien. An interesting link with New Approach is that he was trained by successful Irish handler Jim Bolger, who coincidentally was O’Brien’s mentor when he starting his career in horse racing.
As the Investec Oaks and Investec Derby were being run on the same day (Saturday, July 4) for the first time in history, Galileo’s extraordinary exploits in siring the winners of both races on the same day may be a feat that will never be matched.
Serpentine had only claimed his maiden victory at The Curragh, Ireland, seven days previously. The Aidan O’Brien-handled colt was a five and a half lengths winner over Khalifa Sat, with another O’Brien charge, Amhrán na Bhfiann, an additional length away in third place. The win was O’Brien’s eight in the Investec Derby making him the winning-most trainer in the 241-year history of the race.
On Sunday, Sandown Park, England, and Chantilly, France, staged Group 1 racing. Europe’s super mare, Enable, winner of the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf, had her first run of the year in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, and the two-time Cartier Older Horse of the Year (2018, 2019) suffered a defeat in a quality renewal of the 10-furlong race. The enigmatic Godolphin-owned Irish-bred Ghaiyyath (9/4), who was dropping back in distance after setting a new 12-furlong track record at Newmarket, England, in the rearranged Group 1 Coronation Cup in June, set a fast tempo as is his desire, running his rivals into submission and claiming consecutive race wins at the top level. The John Gosden-trained Enable, a 13-time victor, was two and a quarter lengths second, with Aidan O’Brien’s Japan and Magic Wand the third and fourth finishers respectively.
Though O’Brien did not win the biggest race in England on Sunday, across the water in France, his 21-year-old son, Donnacha, a retired two-time champion jockey, was training his first European Classic winner when Fancy Blue (13/2) won the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) over 10 furlongs.
Donnacha, who retired last November due to weight issues and only trained his first winner on February 23 2020, ironically denied his father, Aidan, in a race O’Brien Senior is yet to win.
Fancy Blue (Deep Impact – Chenchikova) won in a close finish, giving the late Japanese stallion Deep Impact his 47th Group 1 winner.
In a race dominated by Irish-trained horses, Fancy Blue, who had finished runner-up to Peaceful in the Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas over a mile at The Curragh, overturned the form on this occasion, with the latter finishing third. The pair was split by the Jessica Harrington-trained Group 1 Coronation Stakes winner at Royal Ascot, Alpine Star.
Aidan O’Brien, recognised as one of the world’s greatest horse trainers, now has two sons, Joseph (who won the Irish Derby in 2018 with Latrobe) and Donnacha, who have trained Classic winners. The past two weeks have been fruitful for the Master of Ballydoyle with some astonishing achievements across European racing. He seems to currently stand head and shoulders above most other European-based trainers. Maybe his greatest challenge in the coming years will be from his own sons – time will tell.
By Breandán Ó hUallacháin