In the horse racing world, it is invariably the equine stars who claim the lion’s share of the spotlight, and while the jockey usually shares in the adulation of the public, the racehorse trainer is often left in the shadows.
However, the trainer perhaps can be considered the true hero, and it can be difficult to comprehend and appreciate the amount of skill, dedication, patience and sometimes tears go into the training of racehorses to allow them to operate at their peak time and again.
One of the great beauties of horse racing is the amount of opinion and debate that the sport generates, and if one were to ask a thousand horse racing fans who are the top five horse trainers then there would likely be a thousand different replies such is the scale of the sport which reaches around the globe.
If compiling a list of the top horse trainers of all time, there would surely be places on the list for the likes of the late Sir Henry Cecil, Bart Cummings, Vincent O’Brien and Fulke Walwyn; all of whom are written into horse racing legend, but are sadly no longer with us.
Despite a career spanning the best part of fifty years, Sir Henry Cecil will forever be remembered for his association with the imperious Frankel; while legendary Australian trainer Bart Cummings saddled an incredible twelve Melbourne Cup winners among a haul of 268 Group One races.
Today, with the sport of kings as popular of ever there are literally thousands of horse trainers plying their trade around the world, from small yards with only a handful of horses through to massive operations which can call upon hundreds of runners all around the globe.
And so, with trainers largely being the unsung heroes of the horse racing world, we look at potentially the five greatest trainers in the world today.
AIDAN O’BRIEN (Ireland)
Aidan O’Brien has leapt to prominence as one of the most well-known and instantly-recognisable trainers in the world, and the 46-year old has since 1995 been the private trainer for John Magnier and his Coolmore Stud operation at Ballydoyle Stables, where he has enjoyed tremendous success throughout the years having taken over from the legendary Vincent O’Brien.
With powerful backing, O’Brien has trained a plethora of top-class performers throughout the years, enjoying great success not only in the Classics in the UK and Ireland, but also globally, where he has won the likes of Australia’s Cox Plate, the Canadian International, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France and the Arlington Million and Breeders’ Cup Turf in the United States.
Who can forget his fantastic Yeats, who won four consecutive Ascot Gold Cups between 2006 and 2009; or the likes of Galileo, George Washington, Henrythenavigator, Rip Van Winkle, Dylan Thomas or Gleneagles, who won the 2015 2000 Guineas to give the Ballydoyle maestro a tenth win in the colts’ Classic.
Although he has made his name as a trainer of flat horses, O’Brien has even enjoyed success over hurdles with three-time Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq, and his place in horse racing folklore looks assured.
ANDRE FABRE (France)
Fabre started his career as a jockey, becoming the leading jump jockey in France prior to training racehorses. Although his training career started out in the same sphere, the Spanish-born trainer has really made his mark on the flat where he has been the Champion Trainer in France on 25 occasions, notching up an unprecedented run of 21 consecutive seasons as the top dog between 1987 and 2007.
The trainer of seven Arc winners, Fabre collected the Grand Slam of UK Classic winners in 2011 with Pour Moi in 2011, and his impressive record stretches to the United States where he has won races at the Breeders Cup with the likes of Shirocco, Flintshire and In The Wings, while he has also won the Arlington Million with Mill Native.
Fabre has also won Irish, Italian, French and German derbies as well as the Epsom Derby, and has enjoyed success in Dubai and Canada.
TODD PLETCHER (United States)
The Texas-born trainer is perhaps the best trainer in the United States, cutting his teeth and learning the secrets of the trade from the famous D. Wayne Lukas, where he worked under the legendary US trainer as an assistant prior to striking out on his own in 1995.
Since then, and despite coming up against the likes of Kiaran McLaughlin, William Mott, Wesley Ward and Bob Baffert amongst others in a hugely competitive arena, Pletcher has become perhaps the dominant force in United States horse racing, winning four consecutive Eclipse Awards to be named as outstanding Trainer of the Year. He won his seventh Eclipse Award in 2014.
Pletcher first leapt to prominence when saddling Ashado to land the Kentucky Oaks in 2004 prior to that filly also landing the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. The following season, Pletcher broke the record for single season earings, winning in excess of $20million, and he surpassed his 2005 seasonal total the following year.
In addition to Ashado, Pletcher’s notable performers include Fleet Indian, Rags To Riches, Scat Daddy, Super Saver and recent impressive Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner, Liam’s Map.
MIKE DE KOCK (South Africa)
South Africa’s best known racehorse trainer, De Kock’s achievements in his native land are unlikely to be surpassed.
Since starting out as an assistant trainer to Ormand Ferraris – one of the biggest names in the sport in South Africa himself – De Kock leapt into the spotlight when taking over the reins at Ricky Howard-Ginsberg’s yard, following the death in 1989 of the popular trainer. Within months, De Kock had saddled his first Grade One winner with Evening Mist, and worked his way up to become South Africa’s Champion Trainer for the first time in the 1998/99 season.
De Kock has added to his Champion Trainer title several times since, and there are few – if any – big races in South Africa that have yet to be landed by the trainer. A regular name elsewhere, De Kock isn’t afraid to take a tilt at some of the biggest races around the globe, and recently has set up a base in the UK at Abington Place in Newmarket, which is the yard of former top trainer Geoff Wragg, and from where De Kock plots his summer raids on the likes of Royal Ascot.
WILLIE MULLINS (Ireland)
Among National Hunt trainers, Willie Mullins has few peers, and the County Carlow maestro had been dominant in the jumps game at the biggest Festival of them all – Cheltenham.
Although the likes of Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson are formidable trainers in their own right, Mullins is the man to be feared when the biggest prizes are on offer and the former jockey-turned-trainer broke the record for the most wins by a single trainer at Cheltenham when registering an eighth success of the 2015 festival with Killultagh Vic.
Mullins has trained the winner of the 2005 Grand National at Aintree in Hedgehunter, and is responsible for the likes of Hurricane Fly and Quevega, both of whom have become horse racing folklore. Dual-Champion Hurdle winner Hurricane Fly amassed a record-breaking 22 Grade One successes prior to being retired in 2015, while Quevega won six Mares’ Hurdles, breaking the previous Cheltenham Festival record set by Golden Miller.
Mullins’ dominance shows no signs of stopping, and his association with American financier Rich Ricci has brought the likes of Vautour, Faugheen and Annie Power into the spotlight.
Written by Brian Healy, editor at Cheltenhamfestival.net.