Monday, June 01, 2009

Vincent O'Brien

Vincent O'Brien died today - Ireland's greatest racehorse trainer and probably the greatest racehorse trainer in the history of the universe. He mopped up all the great National Hunt races (3 Gold Cups, 3 Champion Hurdles, and 3 Grand Nationals) before becoming Ireland's first great flat trainer - winning Derbies and Prix de L'Arcs. And he certainly was responsible for the replacement of the aristocracy by the meritocracy in that particular profession. But not before a bitter feud with the Irish Turf Club when he was banned on spurious grounds for over a year.

I first came across Vincent O'Brien unknowingly when I walked across the Curragh plains in 1953 with my mother to watch the Irish Derby. Chamier trained by O'Brien and ridden by Bill Rickaby finished second but was awarded the race on a disqualification. My mother put a shilling on for me at 8-1, thereby sowing the seeds of a lifelong interest in the horses. Being a sanctimonious little prig in those days I used my winnings to buy plaster statues on the Blessed Virgin and the Sacred Heart.

Nijinsky was his most famous horse although I always had a soft spot for the incomparable Golden Fleece and for the battling qualities of Sadler's Wells. O'Brien was a class act and he stood by the old rogue Lester Piggot when he had that spot of bother with the English revenue commissioners.