The five greatest Aidan O’Brien horses

Top trainer Aidan O'Brien has saddled some fantastic horses, but which ones will make Planet Sport's greatest top five?

The sight of Aidan O'Brien in the parade ring is enough to strike fear into the hearts of his rivals, as the eight-times Epsom Derby and six-time Breeders' Cup Turf winner has a reputation for sending out seriously classy horses.

Planet Sport plays a game of fine margins to determine the five greatest O'Brien horses of all time.

You know it is some list of racehorses when the likes of Rock Of Gibraltar, So You Think and Giant's Causeway don't make our final cut.

5. Istabraq

It is testament to O'Brien's genius that the bespectacled racing brain from Ballydoyle has a National Hunt horse at number five in his all time best.

Known for his domination of the Flat field, O'Brien showed dual purpose training ability by saddling Istabraq to a hat-trick of Champion Hurdles at Cheltenham alongside four Irish Champion Hurdles.

Originally trained for the Flat by John Gosden, the late John Durkan saw Istabraq's potential over obstacles but fell ill shortly after targeting a Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The horse's training passed to O'Brien, who set about realising Istabraq's potential, in unison with the top National Hunt owner JP McManus.

The memory of Charlie Swan flashing home in front for Istabraq's 23 wins over 29 hurdling outings is enough to have racing fans of a certain vintage dewy eyed. Those three Cheltenham Champion Hurdle wins in the green and gold McManus silks was only prevented from becoming four due to the outset of Foot and Mouth disease in 2001.

"This is no soft flat horse, he's the sort who does not get going until he is in a battle. He has more guts than class, and that's what you need." said Durkan with foresight before sadly passing from Leukaemia in 1998.

4. Rip Van Winkle

Under-appreciated at trips over a mile, the 134 Timeform-rated Rip Van Winkle showed his class in the summer of 2010, winning the Group One Juddmonte International at York.

The horse was named after the American literary character who fell asleep for three years but Rip Van Winkle had eyes glued to his winning performance in the 2009 Sussex Stakes, in which he dispatched Richard Hannon's Paco Boy by two and a half lengths.

The Sussex Stakes win was all the more gritty as Rip Van Winkle fought back from losing to the superlative Sea The Stars in the 2000 Guineas and Epsom Derby, while struggling with issues relating to his hooves

Rip Van Winkle's victory in the Juddmonte International Stakes was stirring as Johnny Murtagh held up the four year-old to put in a perfect ride and pip the Khaled Abdulla pair of Twice Over and Byword on the line.

Comparisons to his sire Galileo on the passing of Rip Van Winkle aged 14 in 2020 were the ultimate sign of the regard the horse was held by his trainer O'Brien.

"He was a great horse. He suffered from very bad quarter cracks all his life but was a typical example of pure Galileo genuineness".

3. Yeats

Not every eye-catcher has six furlong speed and Yeats was a slow building staying phenomenon for O'Brien.

Named after the Irish painter Jack Butler Yeats, brother of the writer WB Yeats, this was a horse etching his name in the record books after winning an astonishing four Ascot Gold Cups at a marathon two mile four furlong trip.

Kept in training after winning the 2005 Coronation Cup, Yeats won seven Group One races in total including the Irish St Leger and the Prix Royal-Oak. Yet, it was the glint of the Cups at Goodwood and Ascot that really got Yeats going.

Yeats smashed the Goodwood Cup record time at the first time of asking in 2006 before returning to win it again, gloriously in 2008.

His Ascot Gold Cup exploits have gone down in history, winning the race by a combined fourteen lengths during his four victories on the spin, starting in 2006.

Some may sniff at the quality of opposition over the years but this was a classic case of only being able to beat what is in front of you, as Stradivarius found in 2021 when failing to join Yeats in the four time club of Ascot Gold Cup winners.

2. Hawk Wing

Sired in Kentucky, an eleven length win in the 2003 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury set Hawk Wing apart at the top of the O'Brien Timeform ratings at 136.

After back-to-back wins at the Curragh over seven furlongs early in his career, there were question marks over the true ability of the promising Hawk Wing.

The son of Woodman finished an agonising second in the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby in 2002.

Even a two and a half length win in the Group One Coral-Eclipse Stakes didn't silence the sceptics, while a seventh place in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Arlington Park merely added to the debate.

Yet, at Newbury in the Lockinge, Hawk Wing was able to put all the bad luck and faint praise to one side by obliterating his opposition under Mick Kinane. "Hawk Wing is absolutely destroying them here" cried commentator Richard Hoiles as Hawk Wing silenced the critics with a resounding eleven length success.

Hawk Wing's trainer O'Brien never lost faith, knowing what a brilliant horse he had on his hands.

"If I blow a horse up because I believe in it, the horse can end up paying the penalty. This is the sort of horse that can do that, but he has the ability to go with it." O'Brien said after Hawk Wing got redemption in the Lockinge.

1. Galileo

The epitome of equine perfection, Galileo goes down as O'Brien's greatest ever horse, not just on the track but at stud where his record is unparalleled.

As a youth, the young O'Brien would study the Coolmoore stud catalogue but little did he know he would one day have the son of Sadler's Wells in his care and a horse that would surpass the top sire.

Galileo was known for his excellent conformation and fluent stride and had mouths wide open with a three and a half length victory in the 2001 Epsom Derby.

After Galileo's King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes win later that Summer, his jockey Mick Kinane was heard to utter that "This is without doubt the best race-horse I've ever ridden."

Few horses of such class go on to quite the spectacular career that Galileo did at stud, with his most significant achievement siring the greatest racehorse of all time in Frankel.

Galileo was Champion Sire for eleven consecutive years to 2020. At the time of his death in 2021 the great Galileo had sired 91 individual Group One winners including a record five Epsom Derby victors.

They don't come much better than that.

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