Racing: O'Brien stays clear of the showmanship

BREEDERS' CUP Irish-trained Stravinsky is blessed with a middle draw in the Sprint but Newmarket's Susu is stranded out wide in the Mile
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D WAYNE LUKAS was in his cowboy chaps and wearing a huge stetson aboard his mighty chestnut hack here yesterday. Bob Baffert told us the reason he cropped his snowy hair short and always had a deep tan was so that he would be recognised. They're flash monkeys, these top American trainers. Heaven only knows what they make of Aidan O'Brien.

While others were parading, Ireland's leading trainer was back in the quarantine yard of Gulfstream Park busying himself with the most menial of tasks. It has been this way all week.

Every morning O'Brien has driven in from from the Turnberry Isle Resort & Club to the track at 5.30, about 45 minutes before daybreak. Each day he has left the horses briefly as they consume breakfast, and then returned before finally leaving the racecourse in the evening. "If I get any spare time I'll spend it strolling out there," he said, indicating the racecourse. "I don't play golf."

"We'll just try to concentrate on trying to get the horses right. They're going to need all the help we can give them."

It is a routine to which those at Ballydoyle are accustomed. "He's a very dedicated young man," Tommy Murphy, the trainer's assistant, said yesterday. "There is no side to him and what you see with him is what you get. It's work, work, work. He's a workaholic."

"He doesn't have what you might call leisure time. He won't go to a football game, he won't go to the hurling. The time when he is not with the horses he's off with the kids [Joseph, Dennis, Sarah and Anna], playing on the ponies."

Barn 21 has been no fiefdom this week. All the lads call O'Brien by his first name. He, in turn, refers to each of his staff by their christian names, even if they have a more popularly used nickname.

There has been little demarcation in the racing chores. O'Brien hoses down his horses, puts on their blankets and takes his turn at hot walking along shedrow, the cooling down process around the shaded sandy path outside each barn.

O'Brien is young enough (he turned 30 last month) and so soberly dressed that he has camouflaged easily among his staff. Most of the American journalists have had to ask which one he is. And when they have asked the man about his incredible achievements out has come the stock answer we have been receiving for some time. "It's a team effort," he says. "We just try to do our best, try not to make the same mistakes twice. We just try to get the best out of the horses we have, keep them healthy and well."

O'Brien will run Mull Of Kintyre (the mount of Michael Kinane) and Brahms in the Juvenile contest of Breeders' Cup XVI here on Saturday. Warrior Queen goes in the Juvenile Fillies and the mighty Stravinsky in the Sprint. Michael Tabor, the owner of the last-named, blew into town yesterday and told us why he entrusts his expensive horseflesh to the ordinary chap in the Giorgio Armani spectacles. "Some people in life have to stand up and shout about their achievements. There are other people, like Aidan, who are more understated," he said. "He's a very mature man for his age, which he needs to be because he's got a lot of responsibility. I'm not sure you can call it pressure or stress, because that's going down a coalmine every day, but he handles his job very well."

O'Brien himself had just descended from the trackside viewing eyrie from where he has monitored his travellers' work all week. Their every move has been analysed, the trainer apparently getting some message from his horses even as they walked. Yesterday, as the lights were still twinkling on the roof of the grandstand they call the pastel palace, most attention was on Stravinsky.

The chunky colt was ridden up close behind his lead horse, Code Of Honour, in an effort to replicate the curtain of dirt which will hit his face shortly after the stallhanders let go on Saturday. O'Brien announced he was happy. Five hours later, when the sun was higher in the sky, there was further cause for celebration when Stravinsky drew stall No 7 for the Sprint.

Old rivals Royal Anthem and Daylami are drawn two and three respectively in the Turf. There were so many defections from this race that High-Rise, who was not shipped over, would have got a run as substitute had he been around.

Lend A Hand's bid for the Mile was boosted when he was dealt stall seven. But Susu was drawn out wide in 13 in the same event, and has bleak prospects. "That's bad," Sir Michael Stoute, the mare's trainer, said. "I suppose we might knock a few over."

LATEST BETTING (Ladbrokes): The Sprint - 9-2 Artax, Forestry, 5-1 Kona Gold, 6-1 Stravinsky, 8-1 Big Jag, 10-1 others; The Mile - 5-1 Silic, Hawksley Hill, 6-1 Jim And Tonic, 7-1 Lend A Hand, 9-1 Middlesex Driver, 12-1 others; The Turf - 3-1 Daylami, 6-1 Val's Prince, 6-1 Royal Anthem, 8-1 Buck's Boy, Dream Well, Yagli, 14-1 others

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