A world record was set by the astonishing Aidan O’Brien as his Saxon Warrior won the Racing Post Trophy here, taking to 26 his tally of Group One victories this year, eclipsing the mark set by the US-based Bobby Frankel in 2003. Simultaneously, O’Brien answered the old question of who he speaks to on the phone in the moments following every major success; it turns out to be his mother, Stella.
Surrounded by wellwishers after what had seemed an unlikely triumph at the furlong pole, O’Brien lifted his mobile to make the briefest but most important of calls. “Ma. Thanks very much, ma. Thanks, ma. Oh, thanks, ma. We’ll talk to you later.”
Speaking to the press is not always such a joy for O’Brien and he has a well-worn selection of dead bats to drop on the familiar questions. “Delighted for everybody,” “a lot of hard work for a lot of people”, “we never expect to win these races” and other old favourites were given another outing.
It is one of the 48-year-old’s most endearing qualities that he is so anxious to share the glory with the dozens of employees at his Ballydoyle stable and the Coolmore stud that produces so much of his raw material. He sometimes has a stab at naming them all in the winner’s enclosure. On this occasion, he seemed also to be trying to break his own world record for modesty: “We’re a small link in a big chain and we feel so privileged to be that link.”
But there was palpable joy and a modicum of relief at reaching the target that has been so anticipated in recent weeks. “Whenever we were going to have runners, it was on everyone’s mind,” he said. “You’d be only hoping. I still know that we get beat in so many races and usually when you want something to happen, it doesn’t.
“We’re so delighted that it happened today because you could very easily go to the end of the year and not win another one. That’s the way it is, with those races. You’d say we were beaten half a furlong down, wouldn’t you?”
Indeed you would and many not only said it but acted on it. At that point, the trophy seemed destined for the yard of John Gosden, whose Roaring Lion moved up stylishly to take the lead and traded at odds of 1-9 on Betfair. Saxon Warrior did not fold, which a two-year-old nearing the end of a mile into a headwind is entitled to do, but instead rallied against the far rail to poke his neck back in front.
As a result, he is now clear at the top of the betting for next year’s Derby at a best price of 6-1, four points shorter than anything else. Ryan Moore, the winning jockey, was clearly impressed. “When the second came to me, I hadn’t asked him,” he said. “When I did ask him, he got down and found plenty.”
Of O’Brien’s achievement, Moore said: “He’s an extraordinary talent. He handles everything with the horses very well from an early stage, sees what they could be and makes them into that. All his horses are so well prepared, so well behaved, they make it very easy for me. They just keep getting better. They come racing, they run their race. Whether it’s the start of the year or the end of the year, they hold their form. They’re consistent and they improve.”
But there will be debate through the winter as to whether the best horse won and Oisin Murphy, on the runner-up, was inclined to blame himself for the outcome. “I thought I was going to win. I think so did everyone else. There’s a headwind there and just in the last 50 yards, it’s hard for them. But if I had my time again, I’d have sat longer. I hit the front inside the furlong but I could have waited. It’s my decision when to go and ... yeah.”
While Murphy was deflated, Sheikh Fahad, owner of Roaring Lion, was magnanimous and even cheerful. “It’s great to be here to see Aidan get his record,” he said. “I’m happy enough with our horse but it’s some achievement to do what Aidan’s done. To be here on the day was great. Two very good horses fought out the finish and who knows how they’ll develop. At least it’s something to dream about through the winter.”