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Vincent O'Brien

Dr. Michael Vincent O'Brien (9 April 1917 - 1 June 2009) was an Irish race horse trainer from Churchtown, County Cork, Ireland. In 2003 he was voted the greatest influence in horse racing history, according to a worldwide vote hosted by the Racing Post newspaper. He trained six horses to win the Epsom Derby and was twice British champion trainer, to name but two of his many achievements. O'Brien was not related to Aidan O'Brien, who took over the Ballydoyle stables after his retirement.


The National Hunt Years

In his early days Vincent O'Brien was a trainer of steeplechasers, and won the Grand National at Liverpool three times in succession, with three different horses - Early Mist in 1953, Royal Tan in 1954, and Quare Times in 1955. Probably the greatest steeplechaser he trained was Cottage Rake, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times in succession (1948-1950). He also won the Champion Hurdle three years in succession with Hatton's Grace (1949-1951).

The Flat Years

Soon after his third Grand National triumph, he turned his attention to flat racing, and set up his stables at Ballydoyle, near Cashel, County Tipperary. Ballymoss, owned by American businessman John McShain, was O'Brien's first top-flight flat racing horse. This colt won the Irish Derby Stakes and England's St. Leger Stakes in 1957 and France's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 1958, en route to earning European Horse of the Year honors. For another American, Alice du Pont Mills, he trained her filly Glad Rags who in 1966 gave him his only win in the 1,000 Guineas Stakes. O'Brien's first Epsom Derby winner was Larkspur in 1962. His other Derby winners were Sir Ivor (1968), Nijinsky (1970), Roberto (1972), The Minstrel (1977) and finally Golden Fleece (1982).

During the 1970s, he and owner Robert Sangster, along with O'Brien's son-in-law, John Magnier, established what became known as the Coolmore syndicate, which became a highly successful horse-racing and breeding operation, centred on Coolmore Stud in County Tipperary, and later incorporating stud farms in Kentucky and Australia. The combination of Vincent O'Brien's incredible gift for picking world class horses and John Magnier's business mind propelled Coolmore Stud to the top of the racing world, boasting greater assets than any other racing stud in Europe, the Middle East, or America. The key to the success was through use of the bloodline of a Canadian-bred horse named Northern Dancer, who had won a Kentucky Derby. One son of Northern Dancer was the British Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky, probably the best horse O'Brien ever trained. He was ridden to victory at Epsom by Lester Piggott, who was associated with the Ballydoyle stable during the most successful years of the late sixties and seventies.

Vincent O'Brien retired from training in the 1990s after winning the 1990 Breeders' Cup Mile at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York with Royal Academy.

Aidan O'Brien was then employed by Coolmore to take over the training responsibilities of Vincent O'Brien. Unlike Vincent, who was involved in every stage of the horses' selecting, training and breeding, Aidan's role involves training whatever horses have been bought or bred for him by Coolmore. This narrow focus has allowed Aidan to produce a myriad of winners from Vincent's incredible bloodline of horses, maintaining Coolmore's status as the biggest bloodstock company in the world.


Vincent O'Brien was voted the greatest national hunt trainer of the 20th century, and was then voted the greatest flat trainer of the 20th century. In the vote for the greatest figure in the history of horseracing hosted by the Racing Post newspaper, Vincent O'Brien came first with 28% of the total vote, with his long-time stable jockey Lester Piggott placed second out of a pool of 100 contenders who had been carefully selected by a panel of racing experts.


Vincent O'Brien married Jacqueline Wittenoom, from Perth, Australia, in 1951 and had five children, daughters Elizabeth (widow of Kevin McClory), Susan (wife of John Magnier) and Jane (wife of Philip Myerscough); and sons Charles and David who followed in their father's footsteps as trainers, as did Vincent's grandson David Myerscough. Grandsons J P Magnier and M V Magnier have ridden with success as amateur jockeys.Charles was married once and had two kids (Michael Vincent O'Brien Jr. and Katehrine Margaret O'Brien). He then got a divorce from his first wife Anne Heffernan and married Tammy Twomey and had Emily Jillian O'Brien. All together Vincent and Jaqueline had 5 children and 19 grandchildren.

O'Brien's older son, David won the Epsom Derby in 1984 with Secreto, beating his father's horse, El Gran Senor, by a short head. David is the youngest ever trainer to win an Epsom Derby, an Irish Derby, or a French Derby. However, in a decision that shocked the racing world, David suddenly retired from horse racing following the birth of his first son, Andrew. A constant debate followed his retirement, with many believing that he would have continued his success and eventually outshone his father.

O'Brien and his wife latterly spent half of each year in her home town of Perth, Australia and the remainder of the year in Ireland. He died at his Irish home in Straffan, County Kildare on 1 June 2009, aged 92.[1]



  • O'Brien, Jacqueline and Herbert, Ivor. Vincent O'Brien: The Official Biography (2005) Bantam Press ISBN 0-593-05474-1


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