Brian Healy takes a look at six of the greatest Classic winning horses to have come out of Aidan O'Brien's powerful Ballydoyle stable.
When it comes to Classic success, Aidan O’Brien has few peers and the Ballydoyle maestro has already struck in 2015 with his Gleneagles, who won both the English and Irish 2000 Guineas, to further boost his already impressive tally of Classic winners.
In all, O’Brien has saddled 22 Classic winners, landing his first success with King Of Kings in the 1998 renewal of the 2000 Guineas, doubling up later that same year with Shahtoush in the Oaks. To date, the trainer’s Classic haul reads:
1000 Guineas – Two winners
2000 Guineas – Seven winners
Derby – Five winners
Oaks – Four winners
St Leger – Four winners
Aidan O'Brien boasts a formidable Classic record.
Away from the Classic races, O’Brien has also amassed a considerable haul of high profile successes, with three King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, seven Coronation Cups and five Eclipse Stakes successes among a fantastic haul of big-race wins. The trainer has enjoyed numerous successes with his high class stayer, Yeats, and the likes of St Nicholas Abbey, Giant’s Causeway and Camelot amongst a host of top names.
With similar successes in his native Ireland and when adding in numerous successes around the globe, including wins in the Breeders’ Cup races; the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and a host of other top races in France; in Canada, and even in Australia where he won the Cox Plate with the aptly-named Adelaide, it is difficult not to be impressed by O’Brien’s record for producing top class horses in the biggest races around the world.
Even away from the flat racing arena he has dominated for years, the trainer has even enjoyed notable success in the National Hunt game, saddling Istabraq to three Champion Hurdle successes. But it is in the Classic races where O’Brien thrives, and here are five of his most notable Classic winners.
GALILEO - Epsom Derby winner, 2001
The Sadler’s Wells horse strangely never made a Guineas appearance for Aidan O’Brien, and instead was pitched into the Epsom Derby on the back of three wins at Leopardstown. He routed opposition by some fifteen lengths on his debut there before showing real class in winning at both Listed and Group Three level after.
However, his relative lack of big race experience proved no barrier for the imposing horse as he routed 2000 Guineas winner Golan and the rest of the field in impressive fashion to land the colts’ Classic from a strong field that also included champion two-year old Toubougg.
Having followed up with another demolition job in the Irish Derby, he landed the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes with a two length defeat of Fantastic Light, but lost his unbeaten record to the same horse next time in the Irish Champion Stakes.
He rounded off his career with a tame effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, finishing a well-beaten sixth behind Tiznow and was immediately retired after the race.
Galileo’s legacy though continues to thrive as a stallion, and he has sired many top-class performers, including the mighty Frankel, Derby winners New Approach and Australia, and this year’s dual-Guineas hero Gleneagles.
ROCK OF GIBRALTAR - 2000 Guineas winner, 2002
The dual-English and Irish 2000 Guineas winner, owned by then Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, at one point held the record of winning seven consecutive Group One races on the spin, kicking off with success in the Grand Criterium at Longchamp before rounding off his juvenile campaign with a win in the Dewhurst Stakes.
Having won five of his seven juvenile starts, he kicked off his three-year old campaign with success in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket before following up in the Irish equivalent and then winning both at Royal Ascot in the St James’s Palace Stakes; and at Glorious Goodwood in the Sussex Stakes.
His last win would come in the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp before heading to the United States and a tilt at the Breeders’ Cup Mile, where he would be beaten into second place behind Domedriver.
Having been named European Horse of the Year in 2002, he was retired to stud where his progeny include Eagle Mountain, Samitar, Society Rock and Jacqueline Quest.
HIGH CHAPARRAL - Epsom Derby winner, 2002
A winner of ten of his 13 races, the Saddler’s Wells colt took a well-worn path to Derby success when landing the Racing Post Trophy, narrowly beating Castle Gandolfo under Kevin Darley before winning back-to-back races at Leopardstown prior to his Epsom success.
Under Johnny Murtagh, he saw off all comers in what looked a strong renewal of the Classic, including stablemate Hawk Wing who had been sent off favourite. Having followed up in the Irish Derby, he finished third to Marienbarad in the Arc, before taking the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
The following season he won three of his four outings, including in the Irish Champion Stakes, and again finished third in the Arc, this time to Dalakhani before successfully defending his Breeders’ Cup Turf crown, although had to share honours with Johar, who got up in the last stride to dead-heat.
The colt produced some smart individuals prior to his death in 2014, siring Group One winners including Contributer, Descarado, Toronado and Wigmore Hall, as well as Dermot Weld’s exciting Free Eagle, and the talented Western Hymn all notable progeny.
2002 Derby winner High Chapparal won two Breeders' Cup Turf crowns.
FOOTSTEPSINTHESAND - 2000 Guineas winner, 2005
A winner of two races as a juvenile, winning on debut at Naas and then following up in the Group Three Kilavullan Stakes, where he beat Gaff, the Giant’s Causeway horse only raced once more, winning the first colts’ Classic, the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket where he beat Rebel Rebel.
He had the likes of stablemate Oratorio and Godolphin’s Dubawi well beaten in behind, winning at generous odds of 13/2, and won pretty much as he liked in seeing off his challengers by alomost two lengths and more.
However, he returned after the race with a foot injury which failed to respond to treatment, and he was retired without running another race.
However, he had the ability and temperament to achieve a high standing in his career and could have been a horse out of the very top drawer. Alas, just how could he could have been is open to debate.
For all his undoubted ability, he hasn’t quite made the same impact with his progeny, with notable offspring including Chachamaidee, Sandiva, Barefoot Lady and Shamalgan.
How good might Footstepsinthesand have been had he not sustained injury?
HENRYTHENAVIGATOR - 2000 Guineas winner, 2008
Another dual-Guineas winner, Henrythenavigator followed up his Classic successes with wins at Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood, emulating Rock Of Gibraltar, with his final win coming in the Sussex Stakes where he saw off John Gosden’s Raven’s Pass by a head.
The Kingmambo horse enjoyed a fierce rivalry with both that rival and also Jim Bolger’s New Approach throughout his short two-season career, coming up against both rivals on numerous occasions, before rounding off his career with a runner-up effort behind his old foe, Raven’s Pass in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Henrythenavigator only raced ten times in all, winning six and finishing in the first three on three other occasions, with his worst finish being a fourth behind Goldikova in the 2008 Prix Du Moulin.
Henrythenavigator won six of his ten starts, never finishing worse than fourth in his defeats.
LEADING LIGHT - St Leger winner, 2013
The Montjeu colt made an inauspicious start to his racing career, finishing a well-beaten fourth in a Galway maiden, but proceeded to stamp his class in the middle-distance division, winning three times at up to ten furlongs, including when landing the Group Three Gallinule Stakes.
Always considered a stayer, he was upped in trip to contest the Queens Vase at Royal Ascot in which he beat Feel Like Dancing, before landing the St Leger with a gutsy win over Talent at Doncaster.
Although well beaten behind Treve in the Arc, he bounced back to score notable success in the Ascot Gold Cup the following season before chasing home Brown Panther in the Irish St Leger. A crack at the Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot last October resulted in him being badly hampered mid-race where he sustained serious injury to his legs.
He was named the Champion Stayer at the Cartier Racing Awards later in the season, but we likely won't see him in action again with O'Brien stating that the horse would likely be retired following those Ascot injuries.
Top stayer Leading Light won the 2013 St Leger.