‘We’ve had some very special horses’

Aidan O’Brien celebrated his 25th Group One at Ascot on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2017
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‘We’ve had some very special horses’

ASCOT: Aidan O’Brien equaled Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 Group One victories at Ascot on Saturday, and the Irish trainer is planning a full-scale assault on the rest of the top-level races this year.
It was Hydrangea’s success in the Filly & Mare that drew him alongside the late, great American trainer but there is every sign that the landmark could well be blown away over the next two months.
O’Brien has 16 horses entered in Saturday’s Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster in England, as well as 12 in the Criterium International and 20 in the Criterium De Saint Cloud in France.
Obviously not all of those will run, but it underlines the firepower at his disposal at his Tipperary base. Yesterday he confirmed that Highland Reel, who was third to Cracksman in the Champion Stakes on Saturday on unsuitably soft going, will hunt better ground at the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar in a fortnight.
His team for America looks formidable, but obviously not unbeatable. US Navy Flag, the speedy Dewhurst Stakes winner, is favourite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on November 3. September and Happily looked penciled in for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies' Turf in the absence of Clemmie, who will not run again this season, on the same day. Roly Poly, who has amassed three top-level victories this campaign, looks a likely starter in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on November 4, and Rhododendron will run in the Filly & Mare, which leaves War Decree, his outsider in the Classic, as his only real dirt challenger.
Add in the Japan Cup and the season-ending international meeting at Sha Tin in Hong Kong in mid-December, and he has opportunities aplenty to knock the record out of the park.
There are myriad reasons as to why O’Brien has managed to cut through top-level races around the world over the past few seasons, but the blend of having the world’s best sires on tap, an ability to draw the best out of his horses throughout the campaign and a well-oiled machine at Ballydoyle is irresistible.
Ask O’Brien what drives his tremendous success and he embraces himself in a cloak of modesty and cites the fact that he is a just a small cog in a giant turning wheel.
It was O’Brien who shaped the world’s leading sire Galileo in to a dual Derby winner in 2001, however, and the foundation stone of his unparalleled success will always hold pride of place in the 48-year-old’s heart.
“Galileo was very special and he is very special all along, Galileo as a racehorse and he's doing it ten-fold every day of the week now as a sire,” O’Brien said. “But we've been very lucky to have an awful lot of very special horses.
"We have had horses who have run strongly all season, we've been very lucky."
To get a better picture of what the ingredients have been requires a little digging and Ryan Moore, who rides most of O’Brien’s best horses, believes he will dominate for some time.
“Aidan will tell you it is a lot of hard work from everybody at home,” the British rider said. “He has an unbelievable feel for it.
“Every horse I rode [on Saturday] ran out of its skin. They always perform close to their best every time. He usually finds a bit more improvement in them – he sees things and gradually builds a horse up.
“What he has been doing this year has been great and he will continue to do it.”
Brian Kavanagh has been chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland since it was established 16 years ago and has therefore watched O’Brien’s career arc towards the stars. He stands in awe of O’Brien’s achievement on Saturday.
“Aidan O’Brien’s career has never dipped below extraordinary,” he said. “His latest achievement in equalling the world record is a new high.
“Knowing Aidan, he will be keen to deflect as much praise as possible and will rightly shine a light on his team at Ballydoyle, his owners and the horses in his yard. But this is very much a personal landmark in the career of an exceptional trainer. We have seen that in Ireland for a quarter of a century.”
O’Brien did not have a runner in yesterday’s Prix Royal Oak at Saint-Cloud in France, and it was left to Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Ice Breeze and Vincent Cheminaud to deny the Aga Khan’s Vazirabad a record third victory in the Group 1 staying contest.


Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

Updated 18 October 2018
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Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

  • Lebanon have made it to their first Asian Cup since 2000 and are up to 77th in world rankings.
  • Oumari feels the Cedars have what it takes to upset a few of the big guns.

LONDON: While much of the focus ahead of the Asian Cup will be on defending champions Australia, who are one of the favorites, along with Japan and South Korea, Lebanon’s Joan Oumari is hoping his side can grab people’s attention and cause a shock or two.
The Cedars’ last appearance at the tournament came back in 2000 when they were hosts — this is the first time they have qualified for the tournament on merit.
Since their FIFA world ranking fell to 147 in 2016, Lebanon have been one of Asia’s most improved and in-form teams, with their ranking jumping to its current position of 77 — the highest in their history.
Drawn alongside regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia, Qatar and North Korea in Group E, it will not be easy, but Oumari, one of their star players, is convinced they can put on a show when the tournament gets under way in January.
“I think when we play and stay like we are now we can go far,” the defender told Arab News. “In football everything is possible and we have a great team.”
Oumari knows that just being back at the Asian Cup after a 19-year absence is already a victory for the nation of six million people.
“For sure it is a great thing for us as a national team, but also for all the people (of Lebanon),” the 30-year-old said. “I hope we will write history and get very far in this tournament.”
Oumari’s journey to play for the Cedars is an interesting, and not unfamiliar one in the recent climate of war, family displacement and refugees. His parents, both born in Lebanon, fled the country during the civil war of the 1970s, making their way to Germany, where Oumari was born in 1988.
Starting his professional career in the lower divisions, he gradually worked his way through the professional tiers of club football in Germany, playing for SV Babelsberg in the fourth division, FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt in the third tier, before making the step up to FSV Frankfurt in 2.Bundesliga in 2013.
Along the way he came to the attention of the Lebanon Football Association, and when the invitation came to join the Cedars in 2013, there was no hesitation in accepting and representing the country of his heritage, if not his birth.
“When I got the invitation from the national team for sure I didn’t have to think about it,” he recalled. “I was very proud to play for the national team.”
His debut in a 2-0 win against Syria in September 2013 did not go to plan, however, getting sent off late in the game. His next appearance would not come for almost two years after Miodrag Radulovic had taken over as coach.
“To be honest it was my decision not to play for the national team for these two years,” he said.
“The main reason was our ex-coach (Giuseppe) Giannini, because after he invited me to the national team I was on the bench and I am not used to flying all over the world just to sit on the bench.
“I am not a player who sits on the bench in my club and not in the national team. After Mr. Radulovic started at the national team the federation called me and convinced me to come.”
The change in fortunes for the Cedars since Radulovic took over has been remarkable, and as it stands they are one of the most in-form teams in Asia, going 16 games without a loss dating back to March 2016.
A friendly match with defending Asian Cup champions Australia in Sydney next month will be sure to provide tougher competition, but given their form they travel to Sydney confident of causing an upset.
While the Asian Cup is within touching distance, Oumari’s immediate focus is on club matters and trying to help his side avoid relegation. Having made the move to Japan’s Sagan Tosu, becoming the first Lebanese player to play in the J.League, Oumari has been in and out of a side that has struggled for consistency and currently lie 17th in the 18-team league.
“I hope that we can avoid relegation and stay up, that’s why I came to help the team,” he said.
One of his new teammates in Japan is Spanish World Cup winner Fernando Torres, and despite the team’s struggles on the field, Oumari is loving his time in Japan.
“It’s really nice here and I like it very much,” he said. “I am enjoying the time with my teammates after training. For sure Fernando (Torres) is a great football player and any football player can learn from him no matter which position you are playing.”