In the UK & Ireland, two horse racing festivals stand head and shoulders above the rest. Every March, Cheltenham, a town in Gloucestershire, South West England, is home to the Cheltenham Festival, a four day jump racing meeting of the highest quality.
In June, the flat season is in full swing and the five day Royal Ascot meeting takes centre stage. In 2018 there were eight Group One races there and total prize money over the five days of over £7million.
Although the spectators and punters may overlap, it is rare for trainers or riders to be successful in both. One trainer who has managed it is Aidan Patrick O’Brien, who has enjoyed massive success at Cheltenham and Royal Ascot. Born in County Wexford, Ireland in 1969, he was a Champion Amateur rider in the early 1990’s before becoming a trainer. He succeeded the legendary Vincent O’Brien (no relation) at the famous Ballydoyle stables in County Tipperary. He was the Champion National Hunt trainer in Ireland for five seasons in a row (93/94-97/98) and has also been the Champion Flat Trainer in his home country every year since 1999 (he also won the title in 1997).
If you name a high profile Group One flat race around the World then the chances are that O’Brien has won it – more than once. Ireland, Great Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Hong Kong, the UAE and the USA have brought success at the highest level. In Australia, he won the Cox Plate in 2014 with Adelaide, the first horse trained outside Australia & New Zealand to win it (and the last before Winx’s dynasty began).
One omission from the roll of honour is the Melbourne Cup. Amazingly, Aidan’s son Joseph (a successful jockey before concentrating on training) has won the race. In 2017 he trained Rekindling to victory – at the age of just 24. Dad had the runner up, Johannes Vermeer.
This year, in the 158th edition of this great race (run over 3200 metres), Aidan trains the favourite. Yucatan, a five year old colt, lines up on the back of a dominant victory over 2400m at Caulfield on 13th October. At that time part owner Nick Williams said:
‘It was quite extraordinary. I’d be saying he’s the Melbourne Cup winner in waiting.’
Assuming there are no late changes to the field declared on Saturday evening, 13 Australasian trained horses will take on 11 challengers from the Northern Hemisphere. O’Brien has another two runners in The Cliffsofmoher and Rostropovich; both classy entrants, but not wholly convincing in terms of lasting the distance.
Chris Waller, Foxton’s Aussie based trainer, saddles three, including Who Shot Thebarman, who will be running for the fourth time in five years, having been scratched late on last year due to a high temperature. If he, Finche or Youngstar win, then recent calls for Waller to be the Halberg Coach of the Year (following Winx’s ongoing success) will continue to grow. Youngstar looks to have the strongest claim of the three, should stay the trip and carries 51.5kg.
Magic Circle has plenty of support and he’ll certainly see out the trip, having won high profile races in Europe over 3200m and 3700m. 56kg might be slightly too much to carry though, although last year’s winning jockey Corey Brown will give him every chance.
Goldolphin’s recent Caulfield Cup winner Best Solution can’t be discounted, despite carrying top weight (57.5kg); the English/Dubai based stable have been sending runners to Melbourne for 20 years now, their time will come.
If you think the focus of this preview has been too international, I’m happy to own it. It’s 25 years since Ireland’s Vintage Crop became the first horse trained outside of Australasia to win the great race. Since then, the floodgates have opened, with horses trained in Japan, France, Germany and Ireland taking the Cup offshore. It’s a compliment; foreigners now love the race and the glory a victory brings. Despite this, the appeal for Australians hasn’t dimmed. Cliches are cliches for a reason; ‘The Race That Stops A Nation’ will do just that again on Tuesday afternoon. Of course, our neighbours across the ditch would love it to be a home grown winner, but if it’s not, it won’t stop them having fun. With the likes of cricket hitting the sporting headlines for the wrong reasons, the Melbourne Cup continues its unique appeal for the Australian public and the rest of the world is happy to go along for the ride.
1 – Yucatan
2 – Youngstar
3 – Best Solution
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