The 20 year Derby Dynasty – Aidan O’Brien

Features | 3rd June 2021

This year’s Cazoo Derby marks the 20th anniversary since Aidan O’Brien won the Epsom Classic for the first time.

Aidan O’Brien now stands alone as the most successful trainer in the great race’s 241‐year history. Serpentine’s surprise all‐the‐way win in last year’s contest was his eighth Derby victory taking him past training giants of yesteryear, John Porter and Fred Darling.

O’Brien’s first was, without doubt, the most important. When Galileo stormed clear to win the race in 2001 it was the start of one of Flat racing’s most dominant equine dynasties.

Galileo on his way to winning the 2001 Derby
Galileo on his way to winning the 2001 Derby

Galileo is now the most successful stallion in British racing history. He has sired five Derby winners ‐ four of them were among O’Brien’s eight ‐ and Frankel is another of his sons.

Galileo was the first Derby winner sired by another stud superstar, Sadler’s Wells, and his success in 2001 was swiftly followed by a second. O’Brien’s High Chaparral held off stablemate Hawk Wing 12 months later before adding the Irish Derby and Breeders’ Cup Turf to his haul.

Having landed the Derby twice in just five years after moving to the historic Ballydoyle Stables owned by John Magnier, boss of the powerful Coolmore bloodstock empire, more Classic success was inevitable.

The only surprise was that it took O’Brien another ten years to win his third Derby. Camelot was sent off odds‐on following his win in the 2000 Guineas and he duly bolted up under O’Brien’s jockey son Joseph.

Camelot wins the 2012 Derby by five lengths
Camelot wins the 2012 Derby by five lengths

Camelot could have been the first Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky in 1970 but he was beaten by Encke in the St Leger. 

Rule Of The World, ridden by Ryan Moore, gave O’Brien a fourth Derby in 2013 and Australia was number five the following year.

Wings Of Eagles, an unconsidered 40‐1 shot, produced a stunning finishing kick to grab stablemate Cliffs Of Moher close home in 2017 to give Padraig Beggy by‐far his biggest victory. The jockey had ridden just one winner the previous season.

Seamie Heffernan, a long‐standing Ballydoyle team member, landed his first Derby on Anthony Van Dyck in 2019 when O’Brien had five of the first six horses home.

Last year Emmett McNamara became the seventh different jockey to ride the winner of the Epsom Classic for O’Brien when Serpentine slipped the field to make all the running.

Earlier in the afternoon Love had given O’Brien his eighth Oaks victory. It was the third time the trainer had won both Epsom Classics in the same year.

O’Brien’s unrivalled Derby success is down in no small part to the dominance of Coolmore. The world’s most powerful bloodstock operation chose to invest in stamina while other breeders were concentrating solely on speed.

It has given O’Brien a huge advantage in the top middle‐distance races but his genius is there for all to see. He will attempt to win a ninth Derby this Saturday with his sole runner but the strong favourite Bolshoi Ballet.

Win, lose or draw, O’Brien, at 51‐years‐old, is going to be around for a good few years yet. It’s unlikely anyone will ever take his crown as the greatest Derby trainer of them all.