No man has dominated horseracing to the extent that Irish trainer Vincent O’Brien has done.
Born in Clashgannif, Churchtown, County Cork on the 9 April 1917, he is one of the few people in sport who can truthfully be referred to as a legend.
He dominated both the National Hunt and Flat racing, winning the Epsom Derby six times, as well as three Champion Hurdles. He added four Gold Cups and three consecutive Grand Nationals with different horses to his tally.
That is really just the beginning of the list. He also produced winners of:
- 44 Classics
- 25 Royal Ascot races
- 9 Irish St Legers
- 5 Irish 2,000 Guineas
- 4 English 2,000 Guineas
- 2 Oaks
- 1 French Derby
- 3 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes
- The Breeders Cup Mile
- The Washington International
- The Triple Crown
It’s easy to see why he has remained unchallenged as the greatest trainer of all time. He was even recognised by Racing Post readers who voted him the supreme figure in the history of the Turf.
How It All Began For Vincent O’Brien
Following the death of his father, a farmer and small-time trainer, Vincent O’Brien took over a small stable.
He saddled his first winner in 1943 as a licensed trainer at Limerick Junction when he was just twenty-six years old.
Within eight years, he was the first trainer to have had three consecutive winners of both the Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle, which was when he decided to turn his attention to the Grand National.
The Grand National
His first attempts weren’t hugely successful, and it wasn’t until he found himself an outstanding professional jockey in the form of Bryan Marshall that success hit with the National.
In 1953, just three weeks after his fourth Gold Cup win with Knock Hard, he won the Grand National with Early Mist.
The following year he won it again with Royal Tan, the horse that had let him down in previous Nationals due to an inadequate jockey.
In 1955 he won for the third year in a row, with Quare Times, becoming the only trainer to saddle three consecutive winners of the National at Aintree.
The Vincent O’Brien Legacy
Few since have come even close to Vincent O’Brien’s accomplishments.
In his time, he won thirteen trainers championships in Ireland, plus four in Britain – over jumps in the 1952-1953 and 1953-1954 seasons and on the Flat in 1966 and 1977.
So what was the secret of his boundless success? Firstly huge determination – he kept his career afloat in the early days, prior to his success, by meticulous planning and gambling.
He would often pay for petrol or other commodities by placing bets for shopkeepers, and even the parish priest was in on the gambling in return for blessing O’Brien’s horses!
Secondly O’Brien had a keen eye for spotting potential, clearly demonstrated when he picked out Nijinsky, the 1970 Triple Crown winner when just a yearling.
He also introduced the new pre-National tactic of getting chasers into a rhythm with prep races over hurdles – a tactic that has been utilised by Irish trainers of winners such as Bobbyjo, Papillon and Monty’s Pass.
Not only did O’Brien appreciate and support his horses, but he did the same with his jockeys which included Pat Taaffe, Aubrey Brabazon, Tim and Martin Maloney and of course, Bryan Marshall.
Vincent O’Brien Passes Away
Vincent O’Brien died on June 1st 2009 at his home in Co Kildare. He was 92. He was buried in the Straffan churchyard in County Kildare.
He was survived by his children, including his daughter Sue Magnier who said: “Dad’s 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.”
Sue Magnier is married to Irish Business magnate and Ireland’s leading thoroughbred stud owner, John Magnier.
After his death in 2009, the National Stakes at the Curragh, which Vincent had won a record fifteen times, was renamed the Vincent O’Brien National Stakes in his memory.