Photo Credit Edward Whitaker
That Irish Ability to Cure a Hangover
By Kevin Kilroy
Who knew that a handshake from Aidan O’Brien cures a hangover. It makes sense, that he has magical hangover-curing powers, given his unparalleled success training horses: 350 G1 wins, 12 Breeders’ Cup victories, Champion Trainer title of Ireland every year since 1998—it’s astounding to look over his stats. It would be a tough argument to make against Aidan O’Brien as the most successful horse trainer in the world. With the news that Turf standout Magical has run a temperature and will not make the trip to the Breeder’s Cup combined with his 2019 winless record in the US, has O’Brien’s luck run out? It was Irish writer, Samuel Beckett, who said, “When you hit a patch of bad luck, sit tight.”
The last four years have been particularly low performing for such an accomplished trainer. Maybe it’s my fault. It was four years ago that I shook his hand and learned what a gracious, humble, and sincere man he is. David Keoghan, who orchestrated our VIP trip through Coolmore and three days later into John Magnier’s box at Leopardstown, introduced me to O’Brien as a “Chicago horse racing fan, who loves it so much he even goes to the tracks by himself.” Starstruck, hungover from not one night of drinking but a handful of days and nights drinking as we made our way around County Tipperary checking in on friends, mares in foal and horses in training, I asked O’Brien if he ever sent horses to Arlington. What a blunder. Yes, he said, modestly. Of course, he has won Arlington’s biggest race twice, the Arlington Million with Cape Blanco and Powerscourt, among other scores on the Million prep and undercard. I made up for it by giving him the scoop on Arlington’s turf course—the winter was so harsh that they did not have it ready for the beginning of the meet. He was interested to know this, and I was amused to be offering information that surely the Executives at Arlington would not approve. Like that, I felt as good as gold.
O’Brien’s horses literally change the face of Horse Racing, the best of which take up stud at Coolmore. It’s hard to impress on people how very impressive Coolmore is, but here are two facts that help: 1) Galileo’s stud fee, Coolmore’s most expensive, is estimated to be $500,000 to $700,000 dollars. 2) A story I heard from three or four Irishmen: when the Queen of England decided to come to Ireland for the first time (she has only visited twice), she planned to visit Coolmore to see the studs. Her helicopter landed on the property as the operators of Coolmore ran out to inform her: “We apologize but one needs an appointment to see the horses; we have private clients on the property who do not wish to be disturbed. Please, we would love to have you back another time.” If you know anything at all about Ireland’s history, you’ve got to love that. And you’ve got to love that along with Keoghan, Robert Lanigan, Casey and Joel McLiney, I was not turned away from Coolmore. An Irish last name goes a long way.
Tucked into County Tipperary (with its limestone hills as perfect for breeding as Kentucky is to the US), Coolmore is a beautiful landscape of stud stalls, gallops, stone paths, hedges, vibrant green grass, and trees riddled with blackbirds constantly crying out in song. John Magnier’s house is there, with its private landing strip and golf course. Ballydoyle just beyond, where the magic of Aidan O’Brien, Vincent O’Brien before him (no relation), meets the bloodlines of horse racing’s greatest lineages. We took a look at Coolmore’s new Legacy, a tribute to Coolmore’s history, where a stuffed Sadler’s Wells stands proud among photos, accounts and replays of the progeny’s greatest races. I visited with Galileo, High Chaparral, Camelot, Canford Cliffs, Henrythenavigator, Pour Moi, and the other impressive animals living in their plush stalls that put the Four Seasons to shame. Patrick, who talked with us and led us through the grounds, spoke to us about the swagger of the hips, the reach of the legs as we watched Canford Cliffs strut his stuff, a horse that Keoghan & McLiney recently had cover their mare Addictedtoprogress. I saw the thoroughbred’s might, their grandeur with my own eyes. And I can tell you, the masters of this sport are formidable, full of madness and a strength that makes you understand their love to run.
That day at Leopardstown, we did not get the win we came for. Second to last, in fact. After seven months off, the filly Overland Express tried to tackle twelve furlongs, and it was too much. Wayne Louden settled her in behind Chicago, and she kept second behind a snail’s pace until reaching the broad, green expanse of grass that is the home stretch at Leopardstown. There, she had nothing, fell back, was urged by Wayne, gave less. Trainer Fozzy Stack’s worry: that she’d lost interest. That the race had fallen out of her.
And with the running of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita this weekend, many will be asking the same of Aidan O’Brien: has the race fallen out of his horses once they reach the US soil? He is 0 for 19 in 2019. Last year, 1 for 29 and 24% ITM. Of 47 overseas horses pre-entered for the BC Card, O’Brien trains 17 of them, almost double what he has ran in the states this year. His potent threats will be in the BC Turf: Anthony Van Dyck (IRE), winner of the Investec English Derby (G1) and third in Champion Stakes. This is O’Brien’s sweet spot, a race he has won 4 out of the last 8 years. BC Mile: Circus Maximus (IRE), scored Group 1 wins in the St. James’s Palace at Royal Ascot and in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp in September. BC Juvenile Turf: 2-year old Arizona(IRE), winner of the G2 Coventry Stakes. A promising colt by standout sire, No Nay Never, if you had to pick one, Arizona should be it to cure your “lost too much on O’Brien’s shippers” hangover. I say sit tight and trust this legend will come around in 2019.