Racing

Aidan O'Brien: the Master of world flat horseracing

Legendary trainer Aidan O'Brien
Gary Carson

Aidan O'Brien has long since established himself as a pre-eminent figure in horse racing but he achieved a particularly notable milestone in 2017 when breaking the long-standing global record of Group One winners in a calendar year.

The master of Ballydoyle had previously come close on a few occasions to the target of 25 set by the late great US handler Bobby Frankel back in 2003.

The sheer strength of the Coolmore-backed yard always made it a matter of time before the record was surpassed and it would be no surprise to see the new tally of 28 bettered in the coming years.

O'Brien may have lacked a superstar in the ranks this season but a collection of tough top level performers resulted in an annus mirabilis.

The year started with domination once again in the Guineas at both Newmarket and the Curragh.

Churchill looked to have the potential at two to make into something special and he secured the double with authority in England and Ireland.

A shock defeat in the St James' Palace at Ascot followed and after a mid-season break he never really recaptured that early brilliance, ending his career with a tame effort at the Breeders Cup.

Similarly Winter blasted out of the blocks to also claim the Guineas double before adding Royal Ascot glory in the Nassau Stakes.

A shock defeat in the Matron came after a training setback but again she ended her career on something of a damp squib when making little impression in the Arc at Chantilly.

An amazing year of classic success also included Derby wins in both the Epsom and Irish versions of the blue riband event.

Things didn't go quite to script for the Coolmore horses at Epsom as unheralded 40/1 shot Wings Of Eagles swooped late to deny the yard's big hope Cliffs Of Moher.

It was a terrific result for jockey Padraig Beggy who grabbed a once in a lifetime opportunity with both hands.

Wings Of Eagles was subsequently sent off favourite at the Curragh but could only finish third to another stable-mate in Capri.

It was a terrific effort in the circumstances as it later transpired that he had suffered a career ending injury in the closing stages of the race.

Capri himself was gaining a deserved day in the sun after a solid sixth placed effort at Epsom and he went on to further classic glory when landing the St Leger at Doncaster.

Churchill and Winter were terrific in the early part of the year but the fact that they couldn't replicate that in the autumn and O'Brien could still break the record illustrates the quality at his disposal.

The likes of Roly Poly and Hydrangea stepped up to the plate when it mattered having been put in their place by Winter in the first half of the year.

Roly Poly proved a hardy competitor with three top level successes while Hydrangea showed her Matron Stakes defeat of Winter was no fluke when adding the Fillies & Mares at Ascot.

That victory drew O'Brien level with Frankel's record and it was perhaps fitting that a new emerging star in Saxon Warrior was the one to make the breakthrough given racing's never-ending search for the next big thing.

The regally-bred son of Japanese champion Deep Impact and Moyglare winner Maybe produced a remarkable battling effort in the Racing Post Trophy to spark the triumphant scenes and well deserved tributes to a rare training genius.

With Order Of St George reclaiming his Irish St Leger crown the only classics not claimed by Ballydoyle in England and Ireland this year were the two Oaks.

O'Brien may have had a record breaking season but there is no doubt that the standout performer of the year was the John Gosden-trained filly Enable.

The Khalid Abdullah-owned daughter of Nathaniel swept all before her in a tremendous campaign which climaxed in a stunning victory in the Prix De L'Arc De Triomphe.

She blew away her opposition in dismissive fashion in both the English and Irish Oaks before going on to destroy some classy older horses and colts in the King George.

The fact that she remains in training looks a very sporting decision by her owner and an exciting prospect for racing fans.

One of the few big races to have eluded Aidan O'Brien in his career to date has been the Melbourne Cup but his son Joseph struck gold at the first attempt in the historic 'race that stops a nation'.

O'Brien junior is proving a chip off the old block and has enjoyed significant success with his large mixed string over the last few years.

Victory in the prestigious handicap event with Rekindling provided his most memorable achievement to date, however.

Champion Aussie rider Corey Brown swooped fast and late to claim the two-mile prize and give Ireland it's third success the race.

The three-year-old pipped Johannes Vermeer, ironically trained by O'Brien senior, and it was a remarkable clean sweep for the Irish contingent with the Willie Mullins-trained Max Dynamite in third.

2017 proved once again that despite it's relatively small size Ireland is among the world leaders when it comes to horse racing.

With trainers of the calibre of Aidan O'Brien and the likes of his son Joseph snapping hard at his heels that looks set to be the case for many years to come.

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