Great European Trainer Vincent O'Brien Dies
Vincent O’Brien, widely acknowledged as the greatest European trainer ever, died June 1 at the age of 92 at his home in Straffan, Co. Kildare, Ireland.
The Irishman started training in 1943 and first made his reputation with jump horses, winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup in England four times, landing a hat-trick in the Champion Hurdle, also staged at the Cheltenham Festival, and gaining an amazing Grand National three-timer at Aintree with Early Mist (1953), Royal Tan (1954), and Quare Times (1955) before switching his focus to flat racing.
The first of his six Epsom Derby (Eng-I) triumphs from his Irish base of Ballydoyle came in 1962 when Larkspur kept his feet while seven rivals fell on the descent to Tattenham Corner. Larkspur was the first of two Derby winners trained by O’Brien for Raymond Guest, the U.S. ambassador to Ireland.
The second was the brilliant Sir Ivor, who took the Epsom Classic in 1968 with a devastating burst of acceleration that carried him clear of the runner-up, Connaught.
O'Brien saddled the great Nijinsky II to win the British Classic two years later before becoming the first English Triple Crown winner since Bahram in 1935 and the latest colt to achieve this feat.
Lester Piggott, who partnered both Sir Ivor and Nijinsky II, was at his best when driving home Roberto for a thrilling short-head triumph over Rheingold to give O'Brien his fourth Derby success in 1972.
During the 1970s, O’Brien, owner Robert Sangster, and O'Brien’s son-in-law, John Magnier, worked hard to find and train top-class racehorses that would then become leading stallions, centered on Coolmore Stud in Co. Tipperary, Ireland.
O'Brien’s final two Derby winners carried the colors of Robert Sangster. The Minstrel prevailed in 1977, again with Piggott determinedly driving home the Ballydoyle colt to edge out Hot Grove, while the fragile but exceptional Golden Fleece could not have won with more ease under Pat Eddery in 1982.
The Sangster/O'Brien/Eddery combination almost won the Derby again two years later when El Gran Senor went down by a short-head to Secreto. However, this defeat was also a proud moment for O'Brien — his son David trained Secreto.
The trainer’s last Epsom Derby runner was Fatherland, who finished ninth under Lester Piggott in 1993. He retired the following year with a phenomenal record of 16 English classic victories, 27 Irish classic wins, three Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) successes and 25 Royal Ascot triumphs.
A statement issued on behalf of his family said: "He and his wife Jacqueline have been spending their winters in Perth, Australia, where their son David is now living with his family.
A statement from O’Brien’s daughter, Sue Magnier, and her husband John and their family said, "Dad’s racing career speaks for itself and needs no elaboration. There was nobody like him. Coolmore Stud and Ballydoyle are the results of his vision and testament to his success.
Ballymoss won the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe in 1958 and was the first of O’Brien’s three victories in the top French race which Alleged won in consecutive years - 1977 and 1978.
O’Brien, invited by Epsom Downs Racecourse, was guest of honor at the 2008 Derby and said then: "There is no doubt that winning the six Derbys gave me the six greatest thrills of my life.
"The 3-year -old colt has just one chance at this race, one day only in his life and I have been so fortunate to have trained the six great horses who won the race for me.
"It is over 65 years since I took out my first trainer’s license and so much has changed at Epsom during that time — starting stalls, supplementary entries, even greater prize money, patrol cameras, watering, elaborate grandstands, improvements to the track and even a Saturday Derby.
"But some things have never changed — the pounding heartbeat one feels as the horses come round Tattenham Corner and the thrill of the uphill finish, whether the victory is easy like Nijinsky’s or by an inch like Roberto’s.
"For me an Epsom Derby win is the greatest prize of all — the ultimate goal for a trainer — and it has been thus for over 200 years."
The Racing Post newspaper in Britain held a poll to find the top 100 racing greats in 2001. O’Brien was voted number one with 28% of the vote.
He sent out Royal Academy, given a brilliant ride by Piggott, to win the 1990 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. I) at Belmont Park.
Ireland’s current multiple champion trainer Aidan O’Brien, no relation to Vincent O’Brien, who took over at Ballydoyle,
O’Brien is survived by his wife Jacqueline and five children, Elizabeth, Susan, Jane, David, and Charles.
His funeral will take place at noon June 4 at St Conleth’s Church, Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland.
Copyright © 2013 The Blood-Horse, Inc. All Rights Reserved.