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12 septembre 2017
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Where would Ireland’s Champions Weekend be without Aidan O’Brien? There are five Group One races at Leopardstown Julius Nattinen Jersey and The Curragh over Saturday and Sunday, and O’Brien will saddle the favourite in every one. There are three Group Two events, and two Group Threes. O’Brien is likely to field the favourite in all five of those as well. Even by Ballydoyle standards, the stable’s pre-eminence appears complete and absolute. It might be argued that such dominance is unhealthy in a sport that needs to maximise its competitiveness to sell tickets, attract viewers and fuel betting turnover. Yet it is only the willingness of O’Brien and “the lads” in the Coolmore Stud syndicate to field multiple runners in a Group One event like Saturday’s Matron Stakes that keeps the price of the favourite, Winter, within sight of even money. Without Rhododendron and Roly Poly, both Group One winners in their own right, in the field, Winter would be closer to 1-3 than her current price of 10-11. Angry gateman tries to bar Jim Best from entry at Brighton races Read more It is also the case that only three of O’Brien’s 10 Group-race favourites this weekend are currently odds-on. Most, including Churchill, the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas winner in Saturday’s feature event, the Champion Stakes, are odds-against, which implies that defeat is more likely that victory. But in a season that is on course to be the most successful even in his long career, the odds also suggest that O’Brien is a single-figure price to win all five of the Group Ones on his home turf this weekend. Boring, some might say, and no more than a reflection of the fact that, thanks to his reliance on Coolmore’s bloodlines, O’Brien has most of the best horses to start with. But there were those who muttered similar complaints when Tony McCoy was racking up 20 straight jockeys’ titles over jumps, with seasonal totals of winners that previously would have been unthinkable. O’Brien, as he himself never tires of pointing out, is part of a team, and is in the happy position of being exceptionally good at what he does, in a racing and bloodstock operation that is also the best in the business. Over decades, Coolmore has created one of the most virtuous circles in commercial history. O’Brien takes colts and fillies sired by Coolmore’s stallions, turns the best of them into champions who then graduate to the covering sheds themselves and then somehow manages to repeat the trick from one season to the next. Advertisement Like McCoy, he is setting targets that are unlikely to be approached, never mind surpassed, for decades to come. O’Brien is already the most successful trainer the sport has seen in terms of Group One wins, and the only trainer likely to pass his record haul of £8.1m in British prize money last year is O’Brien himself (he has £5.6m so far this season). Bobby Frankel’s all-time record of 25 Group One wins in a year, however, has thus far remained out of reach. Sioux Nation’s win in the Phoenix Stakes was O’Brien’s 14th Group One of the season, but only his second in August after notching four, five and three in May, June and July. For all his success this season, O’Brien is still odds-against at around 7-4 to add the dozen Group Ones that he needs to break Frankel’s 2003 record. He was a similar price to set a new mark Terron Armstead Womens Jersey after Churchill’s Dewhurst success took him to 20 Group One wins last season, and added just two more. A strong return from Irish Champions Weekend on his home turf is probably essential if O’Brien is to remain on course to reach 26. O’Brien, without doubt, has the finest raw material in the game to work with, and an employer with the global reach and ambition to target Group One and Grade One targets on every continent. But he is as vulnerable as any trainer to mishaps and injuries, and while the numbers at his disposal are an advantage, O’Brien’s headcount is probably behind the numbers in several of the biggest British stables. Minding, who won five times at the highest level in 2016, was retired due to injury after her comeback run in the spring, while Seventh Heaven, a dual Group One winner last season, will be making her first start since May when she lines up for Sunday’s Blandford Stakes. So while there may be an air of inevitability about who will be the biggest winner on Champions Weekend – and one bookie offers 250-1 that O’Brien will draw a blank in Ireland’s Group Ones – the man himself will take nothing for granted, or leave anything to chance. Quietly, relentlessly, one of the great racehorse trainers is working towards one of the finest achievements in his career

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