Racing greats pay tribute as Aidan O'Brien breaks new ground

Former Ballydoyle stable jockey Mick Kinane led the tributes after Aidan O'Brien broke Bobby Frankel's record of winners at the top level in a year.

Saxon Warrior was O'Brien's 26th Group One success in 2017 with a battling performance in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster on Saturday.

Kinane rode such stars as Galileo, High Chaparral, Rock Of Gibraltar and Hawk Wing in his spell as the number one retained rider and was full of praise for the trainer.

"It's a fantastic achievement, it will be nice to have the record on this side of the water," he said.

"I think we got close to doing it one year, we had about 21 or 22 and I rode 19 of them and he's come close a few times, so it just shows you how hard it is.

"When you look at the horses Aidan has had down the years and he's only done it this year, it puts it into perspective what he has achieved.

"I think the key thing is how his horses hold their form through the year and go on improving, US Navy Flag is the perfect case.

"You never hear him talk of a virus, it shows how meticulous he is, and he deserves it."

Ryan Moore has ridden the majority of the Group One winners for the O'Brien team, including Saxon Warrior.

"Obviously there's a lot of dedication and hard work goes in, but I think it's just a very natural feel that he has," he said. "He can see where a horse is going and how he can get it there.

"He understands them and gets them to perform at their best every time, but they still keep improving.

"He's been doing it for a long time and will continue to do so."

O'Brien's son Joseph had the plum job before turning to training himself.

He said: "It's a huge achievement, to get that amount of Group Ones in Europe in a single year is unbelievable.

"I enjoyed every minute, obviously I grew up in the environment and I might have taken for granted the class of horses that were there every day,

"He deserves every bit of success. Usually I agreed with how he told me to ride them, I was very lucky.

"He's very lucky he has the raw materials but he doesn't miss anything so I suppose that is the big thing."

Another of O'Brien's sons, Donnacha, is now a member of the Ballydoyle riding team.

"He improves horses no one else would be able to. He's very good at what he does," he told At The Races.

"He's very easy to work for. He tells you how it is and we get on very well.

"I've always thought he is probably one of the best trainers of all time and the record brings that home."

Seamie Heffernan has been an integral part of O'Brien's jockey team for many years.

He said: "He was winning with horses that weren't the best horses so the lads that were breeding the best horses, it was probably always going to end up they went to him. He's very reliable and he keeps getting results all the time.

"If you pull your weight and box above it you are OK, but if you have ability and you aren't using it he will let you know.

"We haven't really talked about the record, every day is nearly the same, but the one thing that does happen is every day we have a winner someone gets a pat on the back."

Johnny Murtagh rode 19 Group One winners for O'Brien in 2008 during his three seasons at Ballydoyle and is now training in his own right after finally hanging up his whip in 2014.

"It's an amazing achievement for Aidan and his family and, of course, the team in Ballydoyle," said Murtagh.

"They have a wonderful team, but it starts at the top.

"It was brilliant when I got all those Group Ones for him."

Murtagh succeeded Kieren Fallon, who remembers his time as the main rider at Ballydoyle with great fondness.

"You have to work hard, he works hard seven days a week and he expects that from everybody else, but he rewards you," he said.

"It was a fun place to be, there was a buzz in the yard. You could see the lads, even though they'd won the Derby and all the Classics they would jump around for every winner. There was a buzz which I think you need in the yard.

"All the boys get on great, they work close together, he's got good head lads in each barn and I think that is what works.

"They've got good respect for Aidan, I've worked around the world, for Bobby Frankel whose record it was, and Bobby was the same, there was an energy in the yard and that is what you need."

Before hitting the heights on the Flat, O'Brien enjoyed great success as a National Hunt trainer, being responsible for the mighty Istabraq, who won the Champion Hurdle three times.

His regular jockey Charlie Swan remembers those days and how impressed he was by O'Brien.

"He's a remarkable man. The attention to detail is amazing, he's so dedicated and such a nice man," he said.

"I sorted of expected him to do what he has done. He's such a good trainer. He just knows the horses inside out - he knows every horse.

"I remember when I was riding for him he was winning with horses some of which were very moderate and still got them to win a race. He'd improve them. It was mind boggling.

"A horse like Life Of A Lord. He was a lowly-rated handicapper and Aidan made him into a near champion. He won two Galway Plates, a Whitbread Gold Cup and the Kerry National. He's just remarkable.

"Apart from the races, I only sat on Istabraq once before the start of the season down at Ballydoyle, but in the parade ring before a race, we were always on the same wavelength. He knew what I was thinking and I knew what he was thinking.

"He was very good to ride for."

O'Brien's peers also appreciate the magnitude of the achievement.

John Oxx has been a leading trainer in Ireland for many years.

"It's a great achievement but he's been knocking on the door for a while so it's not as if it is out of the blue," said the Currabeg handler.

"For people who think it's easy because he has great horses, you still have to get them there and it's a big effort, but he seems to pull it off year after year."

Ger Lyons is another Irish trainer who has to compete with O'Brien on a day-to-day basis.

"I'd say the man himself cares less about it than the media. He wakes up every morning, looks at the string he has and each race is a new race, numbers are irrelevant to him. I reckon halfway through the season he wouldn't have known what the record was," the County Meath handler told At The Races.

"Aidan is setting the standard worldwide, there are records he is setting now that should never be broken, he's only a young man remember - he's a long time to go.

"You hear people say it's only because he's got the best horses but I always use the analogy of football, plenty of managers mess up good football teams.

"He deserves huge credit for what he's doing, he's a credit to the Irish racing industry and I think he's taken very much for granted.

Beckhampton trainer Roger Charlton has snatched a pair of Group One wins in Ireland this year with Decorated Knight and was another full of praise for O'Brien.

"I think it's amazing, to organise the number of horses he has, yes we know he has the best horses, Coolmore has amassed the best broodmare band," he told Racing UK.

"But for him to organise the horses going all over the place, it's meticulous, he gives orders in minute detail.

"I wonder whether he sleeps at night, I'm not sure I would, but it's a fantastic achievement."