The sire power behind Aidan O’Brien’s classic firepower

Aidan O’Brien has been training classic winners for twenty years.

When Aidan O’Brien completed the double in the two Irish Guineas with Churchill in the 2000 and Winter in the 1000, it was the fifth time he achieved that feat, though the first with a colt and filly who had already won their respective Guineas at Newmarket. Desert King and Classic Park had been O’Brien’s very first classic winners when successful in the 1997 2000 and 1000 Guineas but plenty more classic winners have flowed from Ballydoyle in the twenty years.

In fact, when Winter won the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, she reached an important milestone as the fiftieth individual winner of a British or Irish classic trained by O’Brien. Between them, those fifty horses have won 64 classics split 27-37 between Britain and Ireland.

Classic Park was to prove a far from typical O’Brien classic winner in terms of pedigree. She was British-bred for a start (from Lady Halifax’s Garrowby Stud) and had been bought for just 30,000 guineas as a yearling to race in the colours of Patricia Burns – one of a handful of the stable’s classic winners not to have carried the silks of one of the Coolmore partners. Her sire Robellino had produced the 1994 2000 Guineas winner Mister Baileys but was again a rarity among Ballydoyle classic winners in not being a Coolmore sire.

O’Brien’s Irish 2000 Guineas winner of 1997, Desert King (who went on to win the Irish Derby as well), on the other, was much more typical of the O’Brien classic winners that have followed. He carried the colours of Coolmore partner Michael Tabor, just like the stable’s latest Irish 2000 Guineas winner Churchill, and was by Danehill who went on to sire another four winners of British/Irish classics for the stable.

Aidan O’Brien’s twenty years of training classic winners at Ballydoyle falls into three distinct periods characterised by the stallions that have provided those winners.

The early years (1997-2003) are marked by the dominance of Sadler’s Wells. Nowadays regarded as a source of much of Coolmore’s current success, Sadler’s Wells was himself the legacy of an earlier era for Coolmore/Ballydoyle, that of Robert Sangster and Vincent O’Brien, when North American-bred sons of Northern Dancer were the focus of their attention. Sadler’s Wells provided Aidan O’Brien with eight of his first 13 classic winners, starting with his first British classic winner King of Kings in the 1998 2000 Guineas, though in the longer term it was 2001 Derby and Irish Derby winner Galileo who was to be much the most significant Ballydoyle classic winner in this period.

The next period covers the years 2005-2009 – 2004 was the last year that O’Brien went without a classic winner at all. This was a transitionary phase marked by Sadler’s Wells’ last classic winners (Irish St Leger winners Yeats and Septimus) and the first of Galileo’s classic winners, 2007 Irish Derby winner Soldier of Fortune who was from his first crop.

It’s also the period of O’Brien’s training career marked by the greatest variety of stallions when his 16 classic winners were provided by nine different sires, including ‘outside’ (i.e. non-Coolmore) stallions Kingmambo, Pivotal and Dalakhani. Kingmambo provided 2005 1000 Guineas winner Virginia Waters and Henrythenavigator who completed the 2000 Guineas double in Britain and Ireland in 2008. Pivotal sired the 2008 Irish 1000 Guineas winner Halfway To Heaven and Dalakhani the 2008 Irish Oaks winner Moonstone. Before Galileo began to get going, Danehill and Montjeu were the main providers of O’Brien’s classic winners during this period.

The third and current period of O’Brien’s tenure at Ballydoyle, dating from 2010, plainly belongs to Galileo who is responsible for no fewer than 15 of the 21 individual classic winners in that time, including Derby winners Ruler of The World and Australia and recent Newmarket/Irish Guineas winners Churchill and Winter. Since 2012, Montjeu (with 2014 Irish Oaks winner Bracelet and 2015 St Leger winner Leading Light) and Fastnet Rock (sire of 2015 Oaks winner Qualify) are the only other stallions besides Galileo to have sired Ballydoyle classic winners.

Up until Epsom 2017, forty of Aidan O’Brien’s fifty classic winners had been sired by just five different stallions, with the father/son pair Sadler’s Wells and Galileo responsible for just over half (27) between them: Galileo (16), Sadler’s Wells (11), Montjeu (6), Danehill (5), Kingmambo (2).

With Rhododendron favourite for the Oaks and Cliffs of Moher heading a pack of his sons in the Derby, Galileo’s domination of the classics could easily continue in the coming days.