In 2009 I was grateful to be the guest of Coolmore, at Ballydoyle in County Tipperary, to get an insight into how the globally successful breeding and training operation worked.
Orchestrated by John Magnier and executed by Aidan O'Brien, Ballydoyle has been a remarkable Irish success story, reaching even dizzier heights since the retirement of the man who started it all, the greatest, Vincent O'Brien.
On a summer day 8 years ago, I was fascinated to arrive at the yard at 7am with the other privileged journalists to see around 100 horses work. Aidan O'Brien knew all of the work jockeys by name and had an encyclopedic knowledge of each horse, much to my and everyone else's amazement. We then got into a minibus which Aidan drove down the gallops at high speed, telling us who each horse was on a microphone, as we watched the stallions and fillies adjacent to us in full flight, on a private course similar to Epsom. Johnny Murtagh was stable jockey at the time, but the one person I noticed in terms of the prominence of his role was Joseph O'Brien, Aidan's then 16 year old son, who was a leading part of the gallop.
I knew from that point forward that Aidan had Joseph in mind for big things, to learn and to weave the family magic on the racetrack. It materialised quickly, as Joseph won the Epsom and Irish derbies on 'Camelot' and 'Australia', and the Breeders Cup Turf on 'St Nicholas Abbey'. However, simple genetics of height and weight meant Joseph would have to try his hand at training possibly sooner than expected. 2017 was his first full season as a flat trainer, the day to day job at Piltown in Kilkenny, where his mother's family, the Crowleys, plied their trade.
That magic I write about was fully realised today as Joseph became the youngest ever trainer of a Melbourne Cup winner at 24. 'Rekindling' was the first 3 year old to win the 'race that stops a nation' in Australia since 1941, and Joseph led home an Irish 1-2-3, with Aidan's horse 'Johannes Vermeer' in second and the Willie Mullins charge 'Max Dynamite' in third. Only Dermot Weld has sent a horse from Ireland to win the Melbourne Cup before.
This is the year in which Aidan O'Brien has smashed Bobby Frankel's record by training the most Group 1 winners worldwide. Cheltenham is primarily an Anglo Irish war, so it's not insignificant that in America, France and Australia, Irish flat racing and breeding is winning. It's global success in huge prize money and the cold hard facts of the winning post. It's something as a sporting nation we all need to sit up and notice.
I was spellbound witnessing Aidan O'Brien train the first three home in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last year, the European Championship flat race. For stable staff and connections to travel with horses to Australia and take the first three places in the Melbourne Cup is stupendous. Willie Mullins deserves a mention, as he's a national hunt trainer most of the time. Joseph O'Brien is a chip off the old block all right. The block is probably gold, as we should now be erecting gold statues in this country to Aidan and Joseph O'Brien. How about one in Tipperary? And one in Kilkenny?
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