IT says it all about Aidan O’Brien’s character and values that racing’s world record-breaker was the coolest person at Doncaster after Saxon Warrior galloped into the history books.
The colt’s last-gasp victory in the Racing Post Trophy after a terrific tussle with Roaring Lion was O’Brien’s 26th Group One success this year, eclipsing the late Bobby Frankel.
Mobbed by the media and well-wishers, the quietly-spoken 48-year-old was almost embarrassed by the adulation – he regards himself as one small cog in the Ballydoyle machine – before he was asked about the horse.
Then he visibly relaxed as he talked about the possibility of the Epsom Derby ante-post favourite lining up in the 2000 Guineas, the first Classic of 2018, following a debrief with jockey Ryan Moore. “Ryan said he’d have no problem being a Guineas horse, so we could start off in that and go on, but there’s plenty of stamina in his pedigree,” said O’Brien. “He’s obviously a very good horse and what he did today was battle, he fought back.
“I think he’ll be comfortable at anything from a mile to a mile-and-a-half. Ryan was adamant he had a miler’s pace, which you need if you’re going to be a champion.”
Observing O’Brien in action on Town Moor explained why 16 of his 32 successes in Britain in 2017 have been at the highest level. As always, he walked the course with his jockeys to assess conditions.
He saddled his horses and, on walking into the packed paddock, issued last-minute instructions to each of his riders, who were in a group huddle before giving each of them the leg up.
As he moved towards the running rail, rival trainers shook his hand and wished him well – racing was willing him to get the record – before having the poise and grace to pose for selfies as the runners entered the stalling stalls.
Then pandemonium at 3.42pm on October 28, 2017, the date that a world record was broken in Doncaster. For a moment it looked like O’Brien’s one-time protégé had conjured a winning ride off Roaring Lion. Yet Ballydoyle horses never lack fitness, with Saxon Warrior cheered across the line on a tide of euphoria.
The ultimate professional, O’Brien had to be persuaded to lead the victor into the winner’s enclosure where he was accompanied by his daughter Ana who was attending the races for the first time since suffering horrendous neck, back and cheekbone injuries in a fall earlier this summer.
Yet, while doing so, this most fastidious of men was supervising the line-up of winning connections for the gathered photographers with his mobile phone glued to his ear as he shook the hands of connections. He later disclosed that the calls after every big-race win are either from his mother or wife Annemarie.
Though training at Ballydoyle on behalf of Coolmore Stud is the job in racing, the modest O’Brien tried, and failed, to deflect the attention. “It is so hard to win Group Ones that I never expect it. We’ve just got a great team, that’s at the heart of it,” he said.
“We’ve been in Ballydoyle 20 years now and each year some of the staff are retiring, but not before they are passing on all that experience. The lads (Coolmore triumvirate John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor) do a great job breeding and buying the horses and it is our job not to damage them.
“I’m very pleased it’s happened today as even though there’s other Group Ones, there’s a chance we might not win another.”
Less than an hour later, O’Brien and his wife walked out of Doncaster’s main gates. A beggar loitering at the entrance asked: “Can you spare any change?” The trainer pauses, opens his wallet and puts a folded note into the hand of the gentleman concerned. He then gives a thumbs-up signal.
It was a gesture so typical of Aidan O’Brien, the trainer still thinking of others on the very day he ruled the world.