‘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.


Pakistan's Azhar Ali signs for Somerset

Pakistan's Azhar Ali celebrates reaching his century during a match between England and Pakistant on August 4, 2016. (Reuters file)
Updated 16 July 2018
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Pakistan's Azhar Ali signs for Somerset

  • Azhar is set to make his Somerset debut against Worcestershire later this month

LONDON: Pakistan batsman Azhar Ali has joined Somerset for the remainder of their first-class English County Championship fixtures this season, the southwest club said Monday.

The 33-year-old replaces Australia opener Matt Renshaw, who made three hundreds at 51.30 in the opening rounds of the Championship before breaking a finger against Surrey at Guildford last month.

Azhar is set to make his Somerset debut against Worcestershire later this month.

"The standard of first-class cricket in England is very high and I hope that I can make a contribution to Somerset winning matches," Azhar told his new county's website.

"I have heard good things about Somerset and I was impressed by what I saw at Taunton in 2016 (when Pakistan opened their tour of England that year against the county).

"I am looking forward to joining my new team mates and meeting the Somerset supporters soon."

Azhar struggled during Pakistan's three Tests against Ireland and England earlier this season, making 73 runs in six innings although his lone fifty did come during Pakistan's impressive victory over England at Lord's.

"Finding the right fit at short notice can be challenging, however we are delighted to have secured a player of Azhar Ali's character, pedigree and class for the remaining seven Specsavers County Championship matches," said Somerset's director of cricket, Andy Hurry.

"His experience at the top of the order will prove to be hugely valuable at the business end of the season.

"I have spoken to him several times over the last few weeks and he is very keen to share his knowledge of the game with our aspirational players, so the influence he can have within the changing room will also be vital for us as a club."