Robin Oakley

The master of Ballydoyle

Not since Michael Dickenson has there been a greater horse man

The only downside about going racing is irritation born of encountering pig ignorant people who talk through their pockets. Beside me at a Newmarket betting counter on Saturday shortly after Aidan O’Brien had once more dominated the big event of the day, not only winning the Dewhurst Stakes with his Derby prospect Churchill but taking second place as well with his 66-1 pacemaker Lancaster Bomber, was a disgruntled punter who told his companion sourly: ‘One day they’ll find out what he’s giving them.’ I was tempted to remind him of boxer George Foreman’s response when someone asked him if a fight had been fixed. ‘Of course it was fixed,’ he replied. ‘I fixed it with a right cross.’ What Aidan O’Brien ‘gives them’, like his famous though unrelated predecessor Vincent O’Brien, is meticulous attention to detail and a perfectly planned preparation.

The most recent trainer to be labelled a genius before the current master of Bally-doyle was Michael Dickinson, whose feat in training the first five home in the Cheltenham Gold Cup of 1983 will never be equalled. I have been lucky enough to spend some time with Michael this year researching a new book on jump racing, and one story he told me was typical of the genius breed and their attention to detail. Not only did he conduct studies into feedstuffs and turf management but he was prepared to learn lessons to apply to his horses from any field of human activity.

He and Flat trainer Michael Stoute (now of course Sir Michael) had dinner during a long past Olympic Games. Noting how human athletes were breaking all records they mused that there must be much to learn from how they were doing it. There followed a series of meetings with the British team’s trainers and doctors.

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