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O’Brien: Justify Could Become Best Sire Ever



Aidan O’Brien can often appear anxious, somewhat awkward, and even a little austere on big-race days as he devotes all his attention to checking over his horses and talking through riding plans with jockeys, or becomes preoccupied by a seemingly intense conversation on his mobile phone. 

He is always unfailingly polite in broadcast interviews, of course, but the nervous smoothing of the hair, the furrowed brow, and that involuntary verbal tic of imploring his audience to “listen” all betray the fact that he would rather be anywhere else other than in front of a camera. 

However, meeting him at Ballydoyle on a quiet day in the depths of winter, he is quite a different character: courteous and cooperative as ever, but less guarded, more self-assured, and displaying a surprisingly sharp sense of humor. 

It no doubt helps that only a few days earlier Warm Heart  had won the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park under a masterful Ryan Moore ride, on her swan song before visiting Justify   at Ashford Stud in Kentucky — a mating that replicates the cross on which the latest Ballydoyle wonder horse, Kentucky-bred City Of Troy , was bred.

A sire who played a major role in O’Brien’s formative years as retained trainer for Coolmore was the Kentucky cash machine Storm Cat. One big-priced youngster after another by the son of Vincent O’Brien’s champion juvenile Storm Bird turned up at Ballydoyle around the turn of the millennium.

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“God bless us, he was a big one, wasn’t he?” said O’Brien. “Giant’s Causeway was the first one of them in here, and he won everything really, he was just an unbelievable horse. So naturally the lads were very strong on him after that.

“The Storm Cats were sharp. Mad with it, though. They would go through a wall, they had no self-preservation whatsoever. They were quick, strong, and powerful, but mad. I’d say if they were in the wild there’d be no stopping them. You’d know a Storm Cat by their traits, without having to look at the pedigree. You still see it in horses with him on their pages.”

Praise for Storm Cat’s great grandson Justify, whose first crop contained O’Brien’s Airlie Stud Stakes (G2) winner Statuette  and whose second generation includes the trainer’s male and female champion 2-year-olds City Of Troy and Opera Singer , is astonishingly high.

Photo: Patrick McCann/Racing Post

City Of Troy wins his maiden at the Curragh

Justify could be the “best ever,” he says.

The best ever? Really?

“Oh, I would say so,” insists O’Brien. “No doubt. He’s definitely the most different. Even as a physical he’s different from any other thoroughbred you’ve seen. He’s a big, muscly, powerful horse. It beggars belief that he was able to stretch out and win a Belmont.

“They stood out the moment they came here. They’re big, rangy horses with huge strides, all of them genuine and with good wind. We had to wait and see whether they had the class, but as soon as they started racing, ah, it all came out.

“If there’s any stallion in the world who demonstrated class, it was him in his last three months of racing. Nobody could have asked him to do more than what he did. One follows another like night follows day, and his progeny are the same. They go forward, they cruise, and they quicken. It’s so exciting.

“It’s unbelievable. Justify is a big sprinter, like a Quarter Horse, who was able to win over a mile and a half. Where does that come from? I think it’ll be unbelievable what his progeny are going to do. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like what’s going to happen yet.”

Photo: Courtesy Coolmore Stud


At the risk of being thrown out of Ballydoyle, I ask O’Brien how he can be so convinced that City Of Troy and his other sharp Justify offspring won’t be flashes in the pan. How is this different from other awesome 2-year-old talents who didn’t train on, as happened a few too many times in the case of War Front  ‘s progeny in the last decade?

“When you have 10 or so examples of any stallion you’ll work out very quickly what’s going on,” he says with only a faint bristling. “You listen to the people who are working with them day in, day out, who don’t have any axe to grind, and they’ll say it as it is.

“But who knows anything about what’s going to happen, ever? Nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. All anyone can do is give an honest opinion based on the information available to them on the day, and accept whatever happens. We all might look back with the benefit of hindsight and ask, ‘Why did I do this or that?’ But there’s nothing any of us can do. Just accept it and move on.”

While I’m playing devil’s advocate, I wonder whether the front-running style of Justify’s most prominent horses in Europe means they might be susceptible to spoiling tactics by rival operations this year.

“We’d be delighted if someone makes the running for them,” O’Brien said with a shrug. “The harder another horse goes for them, the better they’ll be. With horses with profiles like City Of Troy, the harder the others go, the more they come on the bridle. I’d love it if they didn’t have to make the running, but what can you do if no one else does?”

This is a shortened version of an interview that originally appeared in Racing Post. It has been edited to focus on American stallions Storm Cat and Justify. The interview can be viewed in its entirety here.

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