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Attention to detail is key

 Oct 31 2017

…having equalled the late American trainer Bobby Frankel’s previous record of 25 last weekend.

To most O’Brien is a neatly dressed, bespectacled man who is fortunate to train for the owners of Coolmore, which has become arguably the greatest stud operation in history.

However, an article written a couple of years ago by non-racing journalist Conor Pope highlights the incredible attention to detail, which goes into O’Brien’s operation.
On Saturday O’Brien’s charge Saxon Warrior won the Racing Post Trophy for two-year-olds over the straight mile at Doncaster under Ryan Moore.
The Japanese-bred colt by Deep Impact is duly favourite for next year’s Epsom Derby.
O’Brien first broke this record in 2001 with 23 Group 1 winners, but Frankel surpassed it in 2003.
The Ballydoyle farm O’Brien trains out of was made famous by the legendary trainer Vincent O’ Brien, whose purchasing and training skills played a large part in making Coolmore what it is today.

The main gallop at Ballydoyle is based on the turns and undulations of Epsom Downs racecourse, so it is hardly surprising Vincent won six Epsom Derby’s and Aiden O’Brien has already joined him on that number.

O’Brien said humbly to Pope, “I’m just a small part of a massive team. You can have the place and the horses but you need the team working together. It is all about the people.”
However, after reading Pope’s article a more accurate statement would be, “It’s all about the leader of the team.”
In the evening at Leopardstown racecourse, Pope was anticipating the first race, where O’Brien had a filly making her debut. O’Brien said, “I want her to think she’s the best.”
Pope elaborates, “He doesn’t think she’ll win but he wants her to enjoy the experience. She’ll win next time.”
However, before the filly runs, the horse in a neighbouring stall takes fright. O’Brien’s filly gets jumpy in turn. Watching from high in the stands, O’Brien is straight on the phone to his people on the ground. “Take her home. Take her home now and be gentle,” he tells them.
Pope wrote, “She’ll run again, but only when conditions are perfect. Because for O’Brien perfection is the goal. It might be impossible but there’s no one getting closer than he is.”
At dawn Pope had arrived at the stable complex where 40 jockeys, including all four O’Brien children, were getting ready to ride out on mounts selected for them the night before by the maestro trainer.
Pope notices the FM breakfast show booming from speakers hanging from the barn walls and asks O’Brien’s wife Annemarie whether the jockeys like the radio. “It’s not for them, it’s for the horses. When they hear it in the morning, they know it’s time to work. Then at around 12.30pm they’ll have lunch and the radio goes off and they’ll know it’s time to rest.”
O’Brien then arrives and comments, ““They’re really relaxed right now. But if something small changes, even a coat being hung in a different place, that can unsettle them.”
O’Brien gauges the horses’ moods as they pass by.
He is joined by Tom Curtis, who keeps a close eye on the horses’ vital signs using heart rate monitors strapped to their chests. He’s checking heart consistency and recovery rates.
But the monitors also tell Curtis what the horses are thinking. Horses are so sensitive to their surroundings and Curtis so tuned in to their sensitivities that if a horse is paired with a new jockey or is having a bad day for some other reason, the subtle shift in its heart rhythms will alert him.
O’Brien addresses each jockey by name. Every horse has a different schedule and O’Brien remembers their specific requirements without referring to notes.
“It’s just what I do,” he says when asked about his memory.
O’Brien’s in constant contact with jockeys and ground staff through walkie-talkies. The first gallop done, he addresses each rider by name again. “All good Aidan” they respond.
O’Brien leaps into his black Land Rover and races to another track. “I want to get there quickly,” he explains. “I don’t want the horses waiting. I don’t want them getting anxious.”
“It’s all about the horses. Always,” write Pope.
At this session O’Brien drives alongside, watching every muscle and sinew move. All sessions are taped and jockeys’ thoughts recorded as they dismount.
“The attention to detail is extraordinary,” writes Pope.
Later, O’Brien discusses horse psychology. “When you think something, they feel it. They’re remarkable. They feel everything. You can see the disappointment in their faces when they lose or when something’s not right. You’d pull a horse out of a race if his mood wasn’t right.”
They pass a colt having its morning shower.
“See how happy he is,” O’Brien says with a smile. “You can tell straight away if a horse is feeling down. He’s not feeling down.”
Later he points to top horse Gleneagles. He’s the only one with his bridle removed. “He likes it taken off as soon as he’s finished his work. None of the other horses want their bridle off. If we thought he liked being put in that tree over there, we’d do it, whatever they want, they get.”
There is also a horse spa on the farm, consisting of a treadmill and swimming pool, a cold salt water tank, a sauna and a solarium with heated lamps plus a vibrating plate to get horses’ legs warmed ahead of their go on a new underwater treadmill.
O’Brien also has a highly professional relationship with owners, the press and the racing public.
Those who have worked close to the like of Mike de Kock and Sean Tarry would have a similar story … it is attention to detail that separates the greats from the rest.


David Thiselton






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