06/01/2009 12:00AM

Trainer Vincent O'Brien dies at 92


Vincent O'Brien, regarded by many as the greatest trainer in the history of Thoroughbred racing, died at his home in Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland on Monday morning at the age of 92. In recent years he had been spending winters with his wife, Jacqueline, at the home of his son David in Perth on the west coast of Australia. In failing health, he returned to Ireland last week and died in the midst of his family, who include his son, the trainer Charles O'Brien.

Born in Churchtown, County Cork on April 9, 1917, O'Brien's name will be forever linked with those of such great horses as Nijinsky, Sir Ivor, Roberto, The Minstrel, Alleged, and El Gran Senor. His first winner, Good Days, came at Limerick on May 20, 1943, providing the young trainer with the first of many, many good days.

All of O'Brien's biggest winners during the early years came over jumps. Cottage Rake propelled him into the forefront by winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times in a row from 1948 to 1950. He also trained Hatton's Grace to win Cheltenham's Champion Hurdle three times from 1949 to 1951. O'Brien is the only man in history to train the winner of the Grand National Steeplechase three times in succession, turning the hat trick with Early Mist in 1953, Royal Tan in 1954, and Quare Times in 1955.

It was in 1958 that O'Brien's first big horse on the flat, Ballymoss, won the trainer the first of his three Prix de l'Arc de Triomphes. In all, O'Brien won 16 British classics and 27 Irish classics. The first of his six Epsom Derby triumphs came in 1962 with Larkspur. Sir Ivor's 1968 Derby victory preceded his win in the D.C. International the same year, but in 1970 O'Brien struck solid gold with Nijinsky, whose Epsom Derby victory was the centerpiece of his British Triple Crown season, the last time any horse has won the 2000 Guineas, the Derby, and the St. Leger. Nijinsky would become an outstanding sire, as did many of the horses O'Brien trained.

In the early 1970s O'Brien formed a syndicate led by Robert Sangster that included John Magnier that would forever change the face of the racing world. With the diminutive Irish trainer providing the equine expertise, they began raiding Keeneland and Saratoga, making off with many of America's best-bred yearlings and turning them into classic winners that would provide the foundation for some of the best families in the contemporary Thoroughbred kingdom. O'Brien's Epsom Derby winner The Minstrel and his Irish Derby winner El Gran Senor were both gotten by O'Brien in this manner. Another was his two-time Arc winner Alleged.

In 1972, his Epsom Derby winner Roberto, owned by Pittsburgh Pirates owner John Galbreath and named for Roberto Clemente, ran one of the greatest races in British history when he won the first Benson & Hedges Gold Cup (now the Juddmonte International) by three lengths under a brilliant ride from Braulio Baeza.

In 1990, O'Brien's last American hurrah was a loud one as he saddled Royal Academy to win the Breeders' Cup Mile at Belmont Park with his longtime associate Lester Piggott in the saddle. The two teamed up again for O'Brien's final group race winner, College Chapel, in the Cork and Orrery Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1993.

O'Brien retired from training a year later, his legendary status already well secured. A funeral will be held Thursday at St. Conleth's Church in Newbridge, County Kildare.