Amazing Aidan is the Pep of the paddock
HOW do you keep stating someone is a genius and make it interesting? This is the challenge Aidan O’Brien and Pep Guardiola are giving to sports broadcasters and writers every week. O’Brien is to racing what Guardiola is to football — these men are revolutionaries in their fields, obsessive in the pursuit of perfection. Those closest to Guardiola say the maximum amount of time he can be distracted from his job is 32 minutes and O’Brien would be the same. They are always thinking of new ways to outwit opponents. Guardiola wrapped Erik ten Hag up in knots in last week’s Manchester derby, O’Brien will have obsessed on a plan in California this week to maximise Auguste Rodin’s chance in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Guardiola cannot do things alone, of course. There is a best-in-class scouting system around him to ensure City are at the forefront to buy the best players, with sporting director Txiki Begiristain responsible for getting the signings done. The parallel for O’Brien at Coolmore is the Magnier family’s prowess in the sales ring, knowing the outstanding pedigrees and types of blue-blooded horses that will fit into a stable that leaves nothing behind with its attention to detail. Some people think it must be easy for O’Brien and Guardiola — how can they not be successful with no limits on cash and the possibility to buy the best of the best? That argument drives me mad. If all you needed to do was spend, Chelsea and Manchester United would not be floundering, would they?
Look how footballers improve under Guardiola — Kyle Walker, John Stones and Rodri have moved into different orbits on his watch. Horses do likewise for O’Brien. Paddington’s first win this year was a handicap – he ended up securing four Group Ones; Opera Singer and City Of Troy made gigantic strides.
Both men put huge importance on character and the mind. Pep insists on the right character, as much as ability. Aidan always refers to a horse’s mind. He would say Galileo was ‘brilliantly stupid’, with his desire to run through a brick wall, and passed on that determined mindset to so many of his progeny. Man-management is also crucial. How Pep keeps a 23-man squad happy and motivated, I don’t know. That is his greatest skill. You rarely hear of discontent at City and a happy environment is crucial at Ballydoyle, too. I remember visiting once and Aidan beat himself up after forgetting the name of one work rider. He will drive you mad in an interview, when he gives thanks to all and sundry, but there is a reason. Inclusivity inspires loyalty, a team ethic — and everyone follows his attention to detail. And Aidan really has put so much attention into Auguste Rodin, fitting him with a crossed noseband in the Irish Champion Stakes, different to what he had previously worn, to help his breathing. Horses are obligate nasal breathers, meaning they can only breathe through their nose, and their respiratory system lets them take two breaths per second. When Auguste Rodin ran with his mouth open in the King George at Ascot — he flopped, finishing last. His breathing would have been all askew and compromised his chances as a gaping mouth can affect a horse’s breathing. He would not have been able to get enough oxygen in and enough carbon dioxide out. But O’Brien was not flustered. Like Pep after a defeat, he learnt lessons, worked on things and coaxed an outstanding display from Auguste Rodin at Leopardstown. If he does the same at Santa Anita, do not see it as something expected. Take it as more evidence of a genius at work.
Ed Chamberlin is a SkyBet UK ambassador