Six times Derby-winning trainer, Vincent O’Brien will be the Guest of Honour at the 2008 Derby Festival, 6 & 7 June. For a man described by Nick Blofeld, Managing Director of Epsom Downs Racecourse as “a racing legend”, “undoubtedly the father of modern day trainers” and “a living god within the world of racing” Dr. O’Brien is wonderfully modest about the invitation:
“I am most touched to be chosen as Guest of Honour for this year’s Epsom Derby. I could never have imagined eighty years ago, growing up on our farm in remote Co. Cork, that I would have been chosen for this special honour.”
O’Brien was an extraordinary trainer. Never has anyone dominated both the jumping and flat disciplines in quite such style. Originally a jumps trainer, he won three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups and three consecutive Champion Hurdles. Just for good measure, he is also the only man to have saddled three consecutive winners of the Grand National.
Having set new standards in National Hunt racing, he turned his attention to the flat, with devastating effect. He won 44 Classics in total, including the Derby six times with Larkspur in 1962, Sir Ivor in 1968, Nijinsky (who won the Triple Crown of 2000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger) in 1970, Roberto in 1972, The Minstrel in 1977 and lastly, Golden Fleece in 1982.
“There is no doubt that winning the six Derbys gave me the six greatest thrills of my life,” said O’Brien, “The three-year-old colt has just one chance at this race, one day only in his life and I have been so fortunate to have trained six great horses who won the race for me. It is in recognition of their ability, stamina and courage, the skill of the jockeys who rode them and the support of our stable, that I am so proud to accept this honour.”
O’Brien trained for 51 years, winning 13 trainers’ championships in Ireland and four in Britain (two for jumps and two for flat winners). He was voted the supreme figure in the history of the Turf by readers of the Racing Post and he remains enthralled by the sport at which he excelled.
“It is over 65 years since I took out my first trainer’s licence,” he explained, “and so much has changed at Epsom during that time – starting stalls, supplementary entries, prize money, patrol cameras, watering, elaborate grandstands, improvements to the track, and even a Saturday Derby.
“But some things have never changed – the pounding heart-beat one feels as the horses come round Tattenham Corner and the thrill of the uphill finish, whether the victory is easy like Nijinsky’s or by an inch like Roberto’s. For me an Epsom Derby win is the greatest prize of all – the ultimate goal for a trainer – and it has been thus for over 200 years.”
Along with John Magnier and Robert Sangster, O’Brien established Coolmore Stud in County Tipperary, which has continued to dominate flat racing long after its original trainer’s retirement.
Vincent O’Brien will be accompanied to Epsom by his wife Jacqueline and his son, Charles.