O'Brien sees his future in the stars

Meticulous Irish trainer celebrates fifth Classic victory of season as his charge displays hallmarks of greatness
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Too often in racing, talk is cheap. But a stunned silence settled over Epsom in the moments after Galileo made a mockery of a high-class field to win the Vodaphone Derby yesterday. There will be those in years to come who will swear that the carousels stilled and the vast crowd thronging the Downs held their tongues in instinctive homage to the new champion.

You do not lightly bracket the names of Mill Reef, Sir Ivor and Shergar with a horse largely unknown outside Ballydoyle, but there were those willing to proclaim Galileo worthy of such company in the aftermath of victory, and the clock, which showed this was the second fastest Derby in history, provided some powerful circumstantial evidence.

Certainly no one who witnessed the crushing victory by the son of Sadler's Wells will easily forget the turn of foot which turned potentially one of the most competitive of recent Derbies into an Irish jig. The parachute regiment, who were forced to abort their jump on to the course before the start, must have known that the winning post was the preserve of a true high flier. No horse was more aptly named.

In the scrum which followed Galileo's victory one face was lost, pushed to the back of the well-wishers and connections as they funnelled back into the winner's enclosure. Aidan O'Brien always looks as though he has just won the history prize at school rather than adding another to his swelling collection of classics. No less than his prodigious champion, O'Brien has time on his side and a self-effacing air which mixes embarrassment and bewilderment in equal measure.

Given that 15 years ago, O'Brien was picking strawberries, driving forklift trucks and wondering what to do with his life, his rise to prominence has been nothing short of meteoric. Yet he still looks vaguely appalled at the extent of his own success. This was his fifth Classic of the season.

This, for example, is the 31-year-old's insight into his own training methods. "The horses are so well bred. They are unbelievable individuals with unbelievable pedigrees, and all the lads have to do is stop me from interfering with them and messing them up." Typical O'Brien that. It is possible to unearth rumours of a temper, but you do not believe them.

What you can see from the briefest glimpse of Aidan O'Brien is a trainer utterly meticulous in his work. In the paddock before the race, the preparations for Galileo were timed down to the last minute. Before the race, trainer and jockey, Michael Kinane, walked the course not once but twice. Chance is not a marketable commodity on the broad acres of Ballydoyle where Vincent O'Brien, no relation, fashioned a legend. Too often than he cares to remember, Aidan has been mistaken for the son of Vincent, a compliment he is quite happy to absorb.

Not for O'Brien, in the preliminaries, the small talk and the nervous fiddling. Long before the other horses were being saddled, the Irishman had steered Galileo into the middle of the parade ring and was squatting on his haunches tightening the girth. Then he took the stiff brush and, ever the stableboy made good, brushed Galileo with the tenderness of a father. Backside first, then the neck and mane. These were the last moments O'Brien will have Galileo to himself and he was determined to make the most of them.

A quarter of an hour later and Galileo was a star just as O'Brien had quietly predicted the first time he saw the unprepossessing bay colt work seriously on the lush Irish turf. "Right there, I knew he was good enough to win a six furlong maiden without any more work," he said. "He's got such natural speed. He finds it very easy to go fast."

Quite how fast was a revelation to the rest of us who had cast an eye over the raider from across the Irish Sea and wondered what all the fuss was about. In the paddock, the sun gleaming off his coat, Golan looked all over the true champion. With his languid style and handsome head, the Guineas winner quite clearly knew his worth. Lazy at home, some said, but not on the track, countered his supporters who refused to have their enthusiasm dampened by the floodtide of support for the Irish horse.

With Dilshaan also boasting solid credentials, and four challengers from Barry Hills, one of the smallest Derby fields also looked one of the most intriguing. And so it proved, though not in quite the way anticipated in the home stables.

In truth, there was little to tell about the race itself. While Imagine had carried the same dark blue colours of Sue Magnier to a desperately late victory in the Oaks 24 hours before, the only danger to Kinane, once he had asked Galileo to quicken two furlongs from home, was a cricked neck. Within a few strides, Galileo was up and away, leaving Golan, who had tracked the joint favourite all the way from the stalls, chasing thin air. "Unless something had wings, he wasn't going to be caught," said the Irishman, who completed his own historic double in confident style.

The measure of performance could be found in O'Brien's transformation. Not even Istabraq's sequence of three successive Champion Hurdle victories had lifted the taciturn young master of Ballydoyle to such eloquence. The recent improvement in the horse, he said, was unbelievable. Usually the soul of discretion, O'Brien could barely help himself map out the future for Galileo, and only a quick word in the ear from John Magnier prompted a re-entry from dreamworld. "There's an awful lot of talking to be done," he added. Galileo has done most of it for himself.

Comments