Their haul includes the Melbourne Cup, Cox Plate, Ascot Gold Cup, Epsom Derby, Breeders’ Cup Turf, Hong Kong Vase, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and many more. The breadth of talent ensures that the domestic flat racing scene is highly competitive, keeping the Emerald Isle’s best trainers on their toes.
These are the best flat racing trainers in Ireland right now:
The Ballydoyle maestro has loomed large over the Irish flat racing scene for many years. He initially made his name as a National Hunt trainer, saddling his first winner – Wandering Thoughts at Tralee – on the day his licence began. O’Brien was Ireland’s champion National Hunt trainer for five consecutive seasons in the 1990s, and he found fame when his star hurdler – Istabraq – won three consecutive Champion Hurdles at Cheltenham.
He took over the Ballydoyle stables from the retiring Vincent O’Brien (no relation) in 1996, and he landed his first Group 1 success when Desert King won the National Stakes that year. The same horse won the Irish 2000 Guineas and the Irish Derby in 1997, giving O’Brien his first taste of Classic success.
O’Brien won his first flat Irish champion trainer title in 1997. Dermot Weld finished ahead of him the following year, but O’Brien reclaimed the title in 1999 and he has won it every year since. During more than two decades of domestic dominance, he has claimed 14 Irish Derby victories, 10 Irish 1,000 Guineas wins, 11 Irish 2,000 Guineas triumphs and more than 350 Group 1 wins.
He has also been crowned British champion trainer on six occasions, most recently in 2017, despite spending most of his time in Ireland. O’Brien has accumulated 39 Classic triumphs in Britain, including a record eight wins in the Derby at Epsom. He has also won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe twice, the Cox Plate in Australia, three Hong Kong Vases, the Dubai Sheema Classic and six Breeders’ Cup Turf titles. His most famous runners include Galileo, Hawk Wing, Yeats and Rip Van Winkle.
O’Brien Jr. has already emerged as the greatest threat to his father’s dominance. He has finished second in the race to be crowned champion trainer in each of the past four years, despite only starting out in 2016.
The former Irish champion jockey announced himself to the world when he won the Melbourne Cup with Rekindling in 2017. That victory was notable, as Aidan O’Brien has never won the race that stops a nation, and his star stayer – Johannes Vermeer – finished runner-up to Rekindling, while Willie Mullins’ Max Dynamite was third in a famous Irish 1-2-3.
Joseph O’Brien clinched his second Melbourne Cup triumph in 2020, when Twilight Payment stormed to victory. Once again, his father had to settle for second place, as Tiger Moth could not catch Twilight Payment down the straight.
If you are looking for Irish racing tips, it is likely that you will find plenty of runners from O’Brien Sr. and O’Brien Jr. in the mix. Joseph O’Brien has also won big races in Britain, France and the United States, and he is still just 29 years of age, so the future looks bright. His younger brother, Donnacha, is also starting to make waves, cementing the O’Brien dynasty.
Weld set a record for the most winners trained in Ireland in August 2000, when he landed his 2,578th winner. He has continued to add to that tally ever since, and he is still going strong at the ripe old age of 73.
He was the country’s leading amateur rider on three occasions before becoming a trainer, and he is also a qualified vet. In 1993, Weld became the first European trainer to win the Melbourne Cup when Vintage Crop saluted. He has multiple winners at Royal Ascot under his belt, and he has also trained National Hunt winners at Cheltenham.
Weld, who was played by Brendan Gleeson in The Cup, secured his first Classic win all the way back in 1981, and he is still rattling off major victories, including the Breeders’ Cup Turf in 2020.
Lyons grew up in Co. Kildare – the thoroughbred county of Ireland. He spent four years as a National Hunt jockey in England, but he became a trainer after a nasty fall at Newcastle in 1989. Lyons’ first victory came at Navan in 1994, when Maelalong emerged victorious.
By the end of 2018, had reached the milestone of 800 winners. He smashed through the 1,000 wins barrier in August 2021. He has been one of Ireland’s most consistent trainers over the past two decades, and he has frequently been crowned the Irish All Weather Champion Trainer of the Year. He is currently fourth in the battle to win the 2022 Irish champion trainer crown, with a stronger win percentage than both Aiden and Joseph O’Brien.
Harrington is primarily a National Hunt specialist, but she has also enjoyed considerable success in flat racing. She earned more prize money than Lyons and Weld in 2020 and 2021, and she consistently ranks among the top five flat jockeys in the country.
She has more than 80 horses in training at her yard, and some of her greatest successes have come via Jumbajukiba. Harrington is now 75 years of age, and she has won it all over jumps, but she shows no signs of slowing down. Her main ambition now is to emerge as one of Ireland’s strongest trainers on the flat.
“In terms of ambition I want to win more classic races and races abroad. There are a lot of things on the hit-list I haven’t done yet,” said Harrington. “I’d like a Breeders’ Cup winner. I’d like to win big races in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, all sorts of places. I’ve got some very nice flat horses now, with proper pedigrees. They are very exciting.”