06/01/2009 11:00PM

O'Brien's Derby influence pervasive this year


The death of Vincent O'Brien on the eve of the Epsom Derby is a timely reminder of the profound influence the great trainer has had and continues to have on the Thoroughbred breed. Not only did the diminutive Irishman win the Derby six times, 10 of the 13 horses pointing to Saturday's classic are descended from horses trained by him.

And not only trained by him, but personally selected by him. For O'Brien was the consummate horseman, adept at every angle of the game and possessed with an eye for equine excellence perhaps unmatched in the history of the sport.

In terms of accomplishment both on the track and in the breeding shed, his 1970 Derby winner Nijinsky may be the greatest Thoroughbred of all time. The last British Triple Crown winner, he sired 155 stakes winners, among them Ferdinand and Shahrastani, who in 1986 combined to become the only horses by the same sire to win the Kentucky Derby and the Epsom Derby in the same year. Nijinsky sired two other Epsom Derby winners in Golden Fleece and Lammtarra, but his record as a stallion has been eclipsed by another O'Brien trainee, Sadler's Wells.

Like Nijinsky he is a son of Northern Dancer. When Northern Dancer was a young stallion, O'Brien recognized him as the most important foundation sire of the second half of the 20th century. Sadler's Wells wasn't quite as successful on the track as Nijinsky, although he did win three Group 1 races at 3 - the Irish 2000 Guineas, the Eclipse Stakes and the Champion Stakes. He has sired more than 260 stakes winners to date. His 22 individual classic winners include Montjeu, Galileo and High Chaparral.

The influence on this year's Epsom Derby of Sadler's Wells, and therefore of Vincent O'Brien, is profound. The sire lines of 10 of the 13 probables in the race trace directly to Sadler's Wells. Five are sons of 2001 Derby winner Galileo, one is by 2002 Derby winner High Chaparral, and two are sons of Montjeu, who won both the French Derby and the Irish Derby in 1999. And two are sons of Sadler's Wells himself.

Aidan O'Brien (no relation to Vincent), the man who took over at Ballydoyle in 1996, two years after Vincent retired, is slated to saddle six of those. The likely favorite, Fame and Glory, is an undefeated son of Montjeu who has won the Ballysax Stakes and the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, the two races won by both Galileo and High Chaparral prior to their Epsom Derby triumphs. Aidan will saddle two by Galileo. Rip van Winkle is the 2000 Guineas fourth who was the subject of a big betting move last week that saw his Derby price shrink to 5-1, while Age of Aquarius won the Lingfield Derby Trial. Three other sons of Galileo, the William Haggas-trained Dee Stakes winner South Easter, the Jim Bolger-trained Guineas third Gan Amhras, and Godolphin's Kite Wood, will also line up.

The O'Brien-trained Golden Sword, winner of the Chester Vase, is by High Chaparral. Sadler's Wells himself is responsible for Black Bear Island, a full brother to Galileo who won the key Derby prep, the Dante Stakes, and for Chester Vase runner-up Masterofthehorse. Both are trained by Aidan O'Brien.

The jockeys in the Epsom Derby will wear black armbands in memory of Vincent O'Brien, and a tribute to him will be read as the horses pass by the grandstand during the post parade.