Vincent O'Brien (9 April 1917 – 1 June 2009) was an Irish race horse trainer from Churchtown, County Cork, Ireland. In 2003 he was voted the greatest influence in horse racing history in a worldwide poll hosted by the Racing Post . In earlier Racing Post polls he was voted the best ever trainer of national hunt and of flat racehorses. He trained six horses to win the Epsom Derby, won three Grand Nationals in succession and trained the only British Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky, since the Second World War. He was twice British champion trainer in flat racing and also twice in national hunt racing; the only trainer in history to have been champion under both rules. Aidan O'Brien (no relation) took over the Ballydoyle stables after his retirement.
His training career started in 1944. That year, he did the Irish Cambridgeshire/Irish Cesarewitch double with Drybob (dead heat) and Good Days.
In his early days Vincent O'Brien was a trainer at Churchtown of steeplechasers and hurdlers, and won the Grand National at Liverpool three times in succession, with three different horses – Early Mist in 1953, Royal Tan in 1954, and Quare Times in 1955. The greatest steeplechaser he trained was Cottage Rake, which won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times in succession (1948–1950). He later trained Knock Hard to also win the Cheltenham Gold Cup (1953). He also won the Champion Hurdle three years in succession with Hatton's Grace (1949–1951).
In 1951 he moved to and established the now famous Ballydoyle stables near Cashel in Co. Tipperary.
Soon after his third Grand National triumph, he turned his attention to flat racing, and set up his stables at Ballydoyle, near Cashel, County Tipperary. Ballymoss, owned by American businessman John McShain, was O'Brien's first top-flight flat racing horse. This colt won the Irish Derby Stakes and England's St. Leger Stakes in 1957 and France's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 1958, en route to earning European Horse of the Year honours. For another American, Alice du Pont Mills, he trained the filly Glad Rags who in 1966 gave him his only win in the 1,000 Guineas Stakes. O'Brien's first Epsom Derby winner was Larkspur in 1962. His other Derby winners were Sir Ivor (1968), Nijinsky (1970), Roberto (1972), The Minstrel (1977) and finally Golden Fleece (1982). O'Brien also trained the brilliant dual Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe winner, Alleged, which triumphed in 1977 and 1978.
During the 1970s, he and owner Robert Sangster, along with O'Brien's son-in-law, John Magnier, established what became known as the Coolmore syndicate, which became a highly successful horse-racing and breeding operation, centred on Coolmore Stud in County Tipperary, and later incorporating stud farms in Kentucky and Australia. The combination of Vincent O'Brien's incredible gift for picking world class horses and John Magnier's business mind propelled Coolmore Stud to the top of the racing world, boasting greater assets than any other racing stud in Europe, the Middle East, or America. The key to the success was through use of the bloodline of a Canadian-bred horse named Northern Dancer, who had won a Kentucky Derby. One son of Northern Dancer was the British Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky, probably the best horse O'Brien ever trained. Nijinsky was ranked the best ever winner of the Epsom Derby by a panel of experts assembled by the Daily Telegraph in 2018.He was ridden to victory at Epsom by Lester Piggott, who was associated with the Ballydoyle stable during the most successful years of the late sixties and seventies.
Other outstanding flat racehorses trained by Vincent O'Brien include: Gladness, Valoris, Pieces of Eight, Long Look, Boucher, Thatch, Lisadell, Abergwaun, Home Guard, Apalachee, Artaius, Try My Best, Cloonlara, Godswalk, Be My Guest, Marinsky, Lady Capulet, Solinus, Jaazeiro, Thatching, Monterverdi, Solford, Bluebird, Lomond, Godetia, Storm Bird, Kings Lake, Caerleon, El Prado, Woodstream, Capriciossa, Prince of Birds, Dark Lomond and College Chapel. He trained Sadler's Wells (by Northern Dancer) to win the Beresford Stakes, Irish 2000 Guineas, Eclipse Stakes and Irish Champion Stakes. Sadlers Wells went on to become the greatest ever European sire and an outstanding 'sire of sires' including Galileo, Montjeu and El Prado.
Vincent O'Brien retired from training in 1994, four years after winning the 1990 Breeders' Cup Mile at Belmont Park in New York with Royal Academy.
Aidan O'Brien was then employed by Coolmore to take over the training responsibilities of Vincent O'Brien. Unlike Vincent, who was involved in every stage of the horses' selecting, training and breeding, Aidan's role involves training whatever horses have been bought or bred for him by Coolmore. This narrow focus has allowed Aidan to produce a great number of winners from Vincent's first rate bloodline of horses, maintaining Coolmore's status as the biggest bloodstock company in the world.
In spring 1960, Vincent O'Brien was banned by the Irish Turf Club until November 1961 when after winning a minor race at the Curragh, the colt Chamour was found to have a minute amount of a substance resembling an amphetamine in his system.The horse subsequently won the 1960 Irish Derby when trained by Vincent's brother, Phonsie. O’Brien fought the ban which was overturned on 27 May 1961 with O’Brien receiving a full apology.
Vincent O'Brien was voted the greatest national hunt trainer of the 20th century, and was then voted the greatest flat trainer of the 20th century.In the vote for the greatest figure in the history of horseracing hosted by the Racing Post newspaper, Vincent O'Brien came first with 28% of the total vote, with his long-time stable jockey Lester Piggott placed second out of a pool of 100 contenders selected by a panel of racing experts. He was awarded the honorary degrees of Doctor of Laws (LLD) honoris causa by the National University of Ireland, and Doctor of Science (DSc) honoris causa by the University of Ulster.
In 1949, he pioneered the transportation of horses to the races by plane when he transported 3 horses to the 1949 Cheltenham festival in a converted RAF freighter aeroplane. All 3 won their races.
Vincent O'Brien married Jacqueline Wittenoom, from Perth, Australia, in 1951 and had five children, daughters Elizabeth (widow of Kevin McClory), Susan (wife of John Magnier) and Jane (wife of Philip Myerscough); and sons Charles and David who followed in their father's footsteps as trainers, as did Vincent's grandson David Myerscough. Grandsons J P Magnier and M V Magnier have ridden with success as amateur jockeys. Charles was married to Anne Heffernan and had two children (Michael Vincent O'Brien Jr. and Katherine Margaret O'Brien). The marriage was dissolved and he subsequently married Tammy Twomey. They had two daughters (Emily Jillian O'Brien and Penny Jacqueline O'Brien). Altogether Vincent and Jacqueline had 5 children and 19 grandchildren.
O'Brien's older son, David won The Derby in 1984 with Secreto, beating his father's horse, El Gran Senor, by a short head. David, who also won the Irish and French Derbies in 1982 with Assert, is the youngest ever trainer to win an Epsom Derby, an Irish Derby, or a French Derby. However, in a decision that shocked the racing world, David suddenly retired from horse racing in 1988 following the birth of his third son, Charles.
O'Brien and his wife latterly spent half of each year in her home town of Perth, Western Australia and the remainder of the year in Ireland. He died at his Irish home in Straffan, County Kildare on 1 June 2009, aged 92.
Nijinsky, usually known in the United States as Nijinsky II, was a Canadian-bred, Irish-trained Thoroughbred racehorse and sire. He was the outstanding two-year-old in Europe in 1969 when he was unbeaten in five races. In the following season, he became the first horse for thirty-five years to win the English Triple Crown, a feat that had not been repeated as of 2020. He is regarded by many experts to have been the greatest flat racehorse in Europe during the 20th century.
Robert Edmund Sangster was a British businessman, thoroughbred racehorse owner and breeder. Sangster's horses won 27 European Classics and more than 100 Group One races, including two Epsom Derbys, four Irish Derbys, two French Derbys, three Prix de l'Arc de Triomphes, as well as the Breeders' Cup Mile and the Melbourne Cup. He was British flat racing Champion Owner five times.
Lester Keith Piggott is a retired English professional jockey. With 4,493 career wins, including nine Epsom Derby victories, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest flat racing jockeys of all time and the originator of a much imitated style. Popularly known as "The Long Fellow" he was known for his competitive personality, keeping himself thirty pounds under his natural weight, and on occasion not sparing the whip on horses such as Roberto in the 1972 Derby. Piggott regarded Sir Ivor as the easiest to ride of the great winners.
John Magnier is an Irish business magnate. He is Ireland's leading thoroughbred stud owner and has extensive business interests outside the horse-breeding industry.
Galileo is a retired Irish Thoroughbred racehorse and active sire. In a racing career which lasted from October 2000 until October 2001 he ran eight times and won six races. He is best known for winning The Derby, Irish Derby Stakes, and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 2001 and for his rivalry with the Godolphin champion Fantastic Light. He was named the European Champion Three-Year-Old Colt of 2001.
Aidan Patrick O'Brien is an Irish horse racing trainer. Since 1996, he has been the private trainer at Ballydoyle Stables near Rosegreen in County Tipperary for John Magnier and his Coolmore Stud associates.
Coolmore Stud, in Fethard, County Tipperary, Ireland, is headquarters of the world's largest breeding operation of thoroughbred racehorses. Through its racing arm, Ballydoyle, Coolmore also has raced many classic winners and champions. The operation is currently owned and run by the Magnier family, which has been associated with a long sequence of top-class stallions since the 1850s, originally in County Cork, where stallions still stand as part of Coolmore today.
Sadler's Wells was a thoroughbred racehorse who was bred in the United States but raced in Europe, winning the 1984 Irish 2,000 Guineas, Eclipse Stakes and Phoenix Champion Stakes. He also finished second in the Prix du Jockey Club and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. He was named the champion miler in France, and was rated sixth overall in the International Classification for 1984.
Ballydoyle is a racehorse training facility located in County Tipperary in Ireland. It is a sister thoroughbred facility to Coolmore Stud, and both are owned by John Magnier, son in law to the racehorse trainer Vincent O'Brien. The current trainer at Ballydoyle is Aidan O'Brien, who succeeded Vincent O'Brien in 1995. The current stable retained jockey is Ryan Moore.
Alleged was an American-bred, Irish-trained Thoroughbred racehorse best known for winning the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 1977 and 1978. One of the outstanding racehorses of the 20th Century, he was only beaten once in his career, when he was 2nd in the 1977 St Leger after starting the 4/7 favourite.
Sir Ivor was an American-bred Irish-trained Thoroughbred racehorse and sire, who competed from a base in Ireland. In a career which lasted from July 1967 to October 1968 he ran thirteen times and won eight races. He won major races in four countries: the National Stakes in Ireland, the Grand Criterium in France, the 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby and Champion Stakes in England and the Washington, D.C. International in the United States.
Golden Fleece (1979–1984) was an American-bred and Irish-trained champion Thoroughbred race horse and sire. In a career which consisted of only four races, he was undefeated, with his most notable success coming on his final racecourse appearance in the 1982 Epsom Derby.
Scorpion is an Irish Thoroughbred racehorse and sire. As a three-year-old in 2005 he won the Grand Prix de Paris and the St. Leger Stakes. In 2007 he won the Coronation Cup.
Camelot is a British-bred, Irish-trained thoroughbred racehorse. He was one of the leading European two-year-olds of 2011 and won the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster. He was made the winter favourite for the 2000 Guineas and Epsom Derby. On his three-year-old debut, Camelot won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and followed up by winning the Derby at Epsom and the Irish Derby at the Curragh. His bid for the Triple Crown failed when he finished runner-up to Encke in the St Leger.
Imagine was an Irish Thoroughbred racehorse and broodmare best known for winning the Irish 1000 Guineas and The Oaks in 2001. In a racing career which lasted from August 2000 to June 2001 the filly ran ten times and won four races. As a two-year-old, Imagine ran six times, winning the Group Three C. L. Weld Park Stakes at the Curragh and finishing second in the Group Two Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket. The following spring, the filly was beaten in her first two races before winning the Irish 1000 Guineas at the Curragh. Imagine recorded her most valuable success on her final appearance, winning the Classic Oaks over one and a half miles at Epsom. She never raced again, but proved to be a successful broodmare.
Australia is an Irish-bred, Thoroughbred racehorse best known for winning the 2014 Epsom Derby. As a two-year-old in 2013, he won two of his three races, creating a very favourable impression when winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Trial Stakes, and was highly regarded by his trainer Aidan O'Brien. In May 2014 he finished third behind Night of Thunder and Kingman in the 2000 Guineas before winning the Epsom Derby on 7 June. He subsequently won the Irish Derby and International Stakes before being defeated by The Grey Gatsby in the Irish Champion Stakes. His racing career was ended by injury in October 2014. He is standing at Coolmore stud.
Godetia was an American-bred Thoroughbred racehorse and broodmare who won two Irish Classic Races in 1979. Bred in Virginia, she was sold as a yearling and sent to race in Europe. As a two-year-old she showed promise when finishing second on her debut before winning her next race by twelve lengths. In 1979 she was unbeaten in four races in Ireland, taking the Athasi Stakes, Irish 1,000 Guineas, Pretty Polly Stakes and Irish Oaks, but ran poorly when sent to England for The Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks. She returned to race in the United States as a four-year-old but failed to make any impact in three races. As a broodmare she had some success but produced no major winners.
Capri is an Irish Thoroughbred racehorse. As a two-year-old in 2016 he won three of his five races including the Canford Cliffs Stakes and the Beresford Stakes as well as finishing third in the Critérium de Saint-Cloud. In the following year he was beaten in his first two races and finished sixth in The Derby before emerging as one of the best colts of his generation in Europe with wins in the Irish Derby and the St Leger. He won the Alleged Stakes on his four-year-old debut but failed to win in eleven subsequent starts and was retired from racing at the end of 2019.
Anthony Van Dyck was an Irish Thoroughbred racehorse, best known for winning the 2019 Epsom Derby. He was a top-class two-year-old in 2018 when he won three of his seven races including the Tyros Stakes and the Futurity Stakes as well as finishing second in the National Stakes and third in the Dewhurst Stakes. He won the Derby Trial Stakes on his three-year-old debut before taking the Epsom Derby on 1 June. Later that year he was placed in the Irish Derby, Irish Champion Stakes and Breeders' Cup Turf. He remained in training as a four-year-old in 2020, winning the Prix Foy and running second in both the Coronation Cup and the Caulfield Cup. He was euthanised after breaking down in the 2020 Melbourne Cup on 3 November 2020.
Serpentine is an Irish Thoroughbred racehorse best known for his upset win in the 2020 Epsom Derby.