Relationships between trainer, jockey and owner runs to heart of horseracing

Ballydoyle farm has two perfect examples of symbiosis between trainer, jockey and owner.

As long ago as 1624, the English poet John Donne penned the prose “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions”.

In the 17th devotion of that work appears the famous and much-quoted phrase “No man is an Iland”.
Modernised over the centuries to more often than not be quoted as “No man is an island”, it speaks to human interconnectivity and the significance of interpersonal relationships.

Donne donned many hats. In addition to his poetry and prose, he was a soldier and a scholar. Furthermore he was a cleric in the Church of England, becoming vicar of St Dunstan-in-the-West in the same year he wrote the Devotions.

Heralded as the most-eloquent orator of his generation, Donne is most remembered for his celebrated sermons from the pulpit and I suspect that had he been born in the 21st century he would have made a terrific televangelist.

As it is, present-day revivalist Joel Osteen, himself a New York Times bestselling author, is running with the relationship baton and preaching the gospel according to prosperous co-existence.

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Osteen proclaims that “there is no greater investment in life than being a people builder” and that “relationships are more important than our accomplishments”.

My statistic on agreeing with televangelist quotes is about the same as Burnley’s home record at Turf Moor and yet I must confess that Osteen’s sentiments carry a deep resonance.

Perhaps this is because I flew down to the KwaZulu-Natal south coast last week to MC the annual Engen golf day at the picturesque San Lameer resort.

I have now hosted the Engen golf day for 19 years so there is a shared history that speaks to kinship and connection. To the casual eye it might appear as work but it’s deeper than that. It’s a relationship and it feels like home.

Horseracing is built on relationships.

While the hero of the sport will always be the thoroughbred racehorse, the triangular human interaction between trainer, jockey and owner runs to the heart of the sport.

Where mutualism thrives between individuals of extraordinary skill, success will out.

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This truth was self evident long before I became passionate about racing but during my lifetime two shining examples of quintessential symbiosis have hailed from the same small farm in Ireland.

After the Cheltenham festival of 1951 an Irish trainer from Churchtown, County Cork, bought a 285-acre farm near the village of Rosegreen, situated 10km south of the town of Cashel in County Tipperary.

The racehorse trainer’s name was Michael Vincent O’Brien. The farm was Ballydoyle.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the professional partnership between Vincent O’Brien and Lester Piggott, one of the greatest flat-racing jockeys of all time, dominated the European landscape.

This marriage of genius bore legends of the turf such as Nijinsky, Sir Ivor, Roberto, Alleged, The Minstrel and El Gran Senor.

Throw forward half a century and it’s déjà vu.

The present-day wizard of Ballydoyle remains an O’Brien. Although not related to Vincent, Aidan O’Brien has already saddled more than 4 000 winners and has won the Blue Riband of the English turf, the Epsom Derby, seven times.

The trainer/jockey combination of Aidan O’Brien and Ballydoyle’s current first-choice rider Ryan Moore has already surpassed 100 Grade 1 wins.

Measuring 1.7 metres tall, Ryan is 3cm shorter than Lester Piggot in height. Does that prove that “less is Moore” I wonder? Or does the fact that Piggott won nine English Derbies and Ryan only three (to date) suggest we should be saying “Lester is more”?

Add to that trainer and jockey mix the acumen and financial clout of Coolmore – and for the record John Magnier is Vincent O’Brien’s son in law – the results beget Ballydoyle standouts like Highland Reel, Churchill, Gleneagles and the victor of the 2013 Epsom Derby, Ruler Of The World.

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In closing let me not fail to mention “the lads” most recent Grade 1 success. Trained to the minute and given a vintage, ice-cool ride, Coolmore’s 2023 Epsom Derby winner Auguste Rodin romped home to take the $4-million Breeders Cup Turf.

If the 2023 Santa Anita renewal of the Breeders Cup is anything to go by then the incumbent flagbearers of brand Ballydoyle are far from “Donne and dusted”.

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