Bred to win INTERVIEW:It's a family business, they say, so what's it really like inside the Aidan O'Brien household? ROISIN INGLEspends a day with Irish racing's first family IRELAND'S FIRST FAMILY of horse racing boring? The world famous O'Briens of Ballydoyle? The female head of this country's First Family of Horse Racing, Anne Marie O'Brien, reckons some people might say so.
"I think you'd find us a very boring household if you weren't into horses," smiles the wife of world famous trainer Aidan, mother of teenage jockey wnderkind Joseph and his three siblings, all accomplished riders and walking Wikipedias when it comes to the horse racing industry. "As a family, we don't talk about much that doesn't involve racing," she says, driving around the Co Tipperary horse training facility on an unusually sunny day in this wet rag of a summer. She wears the Ballydoyle uniform of blue jeans but her sunglasses are encrusted with diamante hearts. "It's our business and it's our life and it takes over everything. That's just the way it's always been and the way it always will be." The plan is to talk to Anne Marie, Aidan and the children, but first she suggests a quick tour of beautiful Ballydoyle, all rolling meadows and stable floors you could eat your dinner off. Located just outside Cashel, this is where some of the world's most illustrious race horses work, rest and work some more. It's an environment of five star equine luxury. The most elite horses reside in stables with their own individual back gardens; there is a horse spa and swimming pool and pristine gallops that resemble sections of famous English courses such as Ascot. There's even a treadmill designed specifically for work outs of the four legged kind. But even this place of equine perfection is subject to the vagaries of our dreadful summer. Because of the rain, Anne Marie says the horses haven't been able to run much on the grass gallops, and the hay has yet to be saved. The tour comes to an end in the Giant's Causeway yard where Camelot, one of the yard's many superstars, snorts away happily as music and chat courtesy of 2FM hums from the stable speakers. The O'Brien children all ride out every morning and have been travelling with Aidan and Anne Marie to meetings from Ascot to Longchamp to Dubai since they were knee high to the statue of racing legend Nijinsky that stands in the driveway at Ballydoyle. "Growing up here, you get sucked into it," says Anne Marie, an attractive woman with arresting green eyes and faint threads of silver running through dark hair. "If we didn't go on the same journey as Aidan, we'd never see him at all. The thing about racing is if you get a taste of it as a child, you suddenly become involved in this adult world that you can be part of and you are able to contribute to the family business at a young age. There are very few industries like that." The tour complete, we've settled in the plush reception area of the Giant's Causeway yard. Joseph (19) is racing in Naas later so can't be here but Anne Marie and Aidan, with their children Sarah (17), Ana (16) and Donnacha, who turns 14 the day we meet, have gathered for a rare family interview. The problem is the children are about as interested in talking to this magazine as Aidan O'Brien is partial to watching Coronation Street of an evening. For the record, he's never seen it, or most other television programmes either. Not surprising really. You don't get to be the world's most successful trainer by keeping up with Fair City, Mad Men or even The Killing. So while it's all very pleasant, the room decorated with pictures of Ballydoyle's past glories, a pot of coffee and chocolate fingers arranged neatly on a tray, it's the conversational equivalent of pulling teeth. Like most teenagers, the 0Brien children clam up under even the gentlest of interrogations. An opener about the inevitability of being horse mad growing up in Ballydoyle is greeted with silence, before their father answers, saying: "I suppose you'd say since their eyes were open they've seen and heard nothing else." "We were holding you on horses before you could walk," he says, gesturing to each child, placing a reassuring hand on Ana's elbow. "You get exposed to something so young that it does take you over. Isn't that it?" he says, coaxing his brood. "I suppose so," one of them answers. More silence. "Come on," says Aidan gently, flicking a graceful hand towards their heads. "We want to know what's really going on in there." I may not be able to tell one end of a thoroughbred from the other but even I know the answer to that one. It doesn't take Tracy Piggott to deduce that there are horses cantering through the minds of every one of the O'Brien oakley shades price children and their parents at all times. They are consumed by them. Observing them. Grooming them. Feeding them. Breeding them. Winning the biggest races with them. In the 16 years that Aidan O'Brien has been Master of Ballydoyle, taking over from the late legendary MV O'Brien (no relation), he's had a stunning run of success, right up to this season which has seen him take 10 Group 1 winners already, bringing his career total to more than 200. Since former stable jockey Johnny Murtagh parted company with the yard in 2010, the majority of horses have been ridden by Joseph, who had his first big win in the Breeders' Cup last November. The family's most memorable moment this year came when Joseph won the Epsom Derby on Camelot, marking the first time in history a father and son jockey/trainer combination won the race. Camelot, ridden by Joseph again, also won the Irish Derby, claiming a new trainer record of 28 Irish Classic wins for O'Brien, a record previously held by the previous master of Ballydoyle. And not forgetting Joseph's win on the same horse in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. So, if Camelot, with Joseph on board, scoops the St Leger at York in oakley outlet store online September, he will become the first horse since Nijinsky in 1970 to secure horse racing's Triple Crown. Apart from one disappointing haul in 2004, O'Brien has had an astonishingly consistent run of success. Everybody in the business will tell you he has a way with horses, a magic touch. Given the financial muscle wielded by Ballydoyle and Coolmore Stud owners John Magnier and his associates, they might not shout about it, but certain racing insiders will also tell you that if other trainers had the horses that are selected for Aidan O'Brien they'd be notching up winners at the same relentless rate. But then again, before he ever came to Ballydoyle, where he gets to oakley clothing sale pick from the cream of racehorses, the trainer had already broken plenty of records. There are also no shortage of racing folk who'll say that if other jockeys were given the opportunity to ride the kind of dream animals Joseph O'Brien has to choose from, they'd be coming down with Group 1 winners too. "Good horses make good jockeys," they might say, well out of earshot of the O'Briens, naturally. Such industry chatter is irrelevant to a family who know better than most the natural skill, killer timing and ability to perform under pressure it takes to become a champion jockey. When I ask Anne Marie if she has experienced any resentment about the opportunities afforded Joseph, she shrugs and says: "I am sure there probably is but you know what, you just get on with it don't you? When somebody else comes on the scene and starts riding lots of winners it lessens opportunities for others... it's the same in any top level competitive sport." It's clear the other children are as ambitious as Joseph to have a starring role in the family business, but it's difficult to get them to talk about it. So instead Aidan explains that Sarah, who often gets mistaken for her mother at meetings, has had her amateur licence for a year and wants to be a vet after she does her Leaving Cert next year. Ana, the most reserved of the children, represents Ireland on the pony eventing team and is applying for her first riding licence at the moment. After school, she's thinking about studying to be an equine chiropractor. Donnacha rides out with the others every morning and will apply for his licence when he is old enough. In the meantime, he says he's not mad about school and laughs about certain teachers in nearby Rockwell College asking him for racing tips. "If you are brought up in this environment and you've ridden from the time you can walk, it's a natural progression that you would want to get a licence and ride," says Anne Marie, herself a former jockey and champion National Hunt trainer. Of course size and weight can restrict how far you will go. Take Joseph, for example. Anne Marie explains that although he is 5ft 11ins, her son often has to remain below 9st. This means during important racing weeks such as Ascot, the unusually tall jockey is on a punishing regime of dieting and exercise. Breakfast might consist of a few strawberries and a coffee before he works out in several layers of clothes and woolly hats, sometimes shedding four pounds in a session. "It's hard to see what he has to put himself through," says his mother. "I never thought he'd be able to keep his weight at that level... it's really hard work; you have to be totally committed or you couldn't do it." Are the other children proud of their big brother? "They bollock him when things go wrong and they don't praise him when things go right, isn't that it?" says Aidan, who when asked about his own take on Joseph's success opts to share the praise. "He works very hard, they all work very hard," he says. THE FIRST ALARM clock goes off in the O'Brien house each morning at 5.30am. Aidan gets up first and then around half an hour later, will wake the children, who fight over two copies of the Racing Post they recently increased their order from one before studying more racing news on their phones. They tack up and ride out anything up to six horses before coming back for breakfast and a dose of vitamins and fish oils. Breakfast is fresh juice and scrambled eggs from their own hens with smoked salmon and brown bread. (These days, Joseph can only drool at the sight and pop another strawberry.) During term time, the three youngest often sneak late into school and can sometimes be found in classes texting notes regarding the form of the horses they've ridden that morning back to staff in Ballydoyle. "So they've had a long job of work before they even go to school," says Anne Marie. "What's that called, child labour?" jokes their father. "If we didn't want to do it we wouldn't," pipes up Sarah. "We all love being with the horses and we're very grateful to be in this position." When the children return from school they get caught up in the workings of Ballydoyle again. By 9pm, they are on their way to bed or falling asleep on the sofa. They eat healthily and, like their father, are vehemently anti smoking and anti drinking. Anne Marie oakley usa sale O'Brien just doesn't have the same worries as other mothers of teenagers. At the end of the average day her children have no energy left to go even slightly off the rails. NEAT IS THE word that comes to mind when you look at Aidan O'Brien, whether in top hat and tails at Ascot or wearing his trademark prescription Oakley sunglasses. When I was last here, four years ago, he revealed something interesting about his daily ablutions. Each morning and evening when he puts the toothbrush back on the sink, he explained that he had to return it to the same spot, the brush pointing a specific direction an indicator perhaps that his perfectionist, veering on OCD, approach to training horses also dominates in the domestic setting. I bring up the toothbrush with his family because I'm hoping the children might take the opportunity to highlight some of his other interesting habits. "If you start asking them about this you'll find out how much of a freak I really am," says Aidan, leaning back on a cushion. I look expectantly at Sarah, Donnacha and Ana, who reward me with barely suppressed giggles but not much in the way of freaky anecdotes about what drives them mad about Dad. As the silence lengthens it finally dawns on me that when it comes to dealing with the media these children are probably even more well trained than the horses in the yard outside the window. They are also fully fluent in the kind of humble Aidan O'Brienisms we've come to expect from the trainer. There's lots of "we know we are very lucky" from the children and "we are grateful every day to be in this position" and "we just do our best, that's all you can do". In relation to Toothbrushgate, Sarah says: "It's nice to do the best you can, there's no point in taking shortcuts when you are trying to get places..
. when you are with the horses every day you are used to doing things properly and there's nothing wrong with doing things properly.".
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