Aidan O’Brien Group One run stalled by French cancellation

Sunday’s Saint-Cloud card scrapped due to protest against French racing budget cuts

Aidan O’Brien’s record-breaking Group One juggernaut shuddered to a temporary halt in Paris on Sunday when protest action led to racing being cancelled at Saint-Cloud including the final two top-flight prizes of the French season. O’Brien set a new world record of 26 Group/Grade One winners on the flat in a calendar year with Saxon Warrior’s success in Saturday’s Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster.

Hopes were high Ireland’s champion trainer would add to the new record with five runners declared between both the Criterium de Saint-Cloud and the Criterium International. However, a protest against proposed budget cuts within French racing led to racing being cancelled after just a single contest.

A group representing owners, trainers and breeders blocked the entrance to the Saint-Cloud parade ring and negotiations failed to reach a resolution that could allow racing to go ahead.

The possibility of the card, and especially both Group One races, being rescheduled was discussed in the immediate aftermath of the cancellation but events brought O’Brien’s momentous weekend to an unlikely and anti-climactic halt.


Nevertheless racing has been praising the Irishman’s superb feat in breaking the late Bobby Frankel’s previous 14 year old record of 25 Group/Grade in a year.

Ryan Moore rode Saxon Warrior to his dramatic Racing Post Trophy success and Coolmore's No.1 jockey was fulsome in his praise.

“Obviously there’s a lot of dedication and hard work goes in but I think it’s just a very natural feel that he has. He can see where a horse is going and how he can get it there.

“He understands them and gets them to perform at their very best every time but they still keep improving,” said the Englishman.

Coolmore's former No.1, Michael Kinane, agreed and said: "I think the key thing is how his horses hold their form through the year and go on improving. US Navy Flag (Middle Park and Dewhurst Stakes winner) is the perfect case."

US Navy Flag may get the chance to add further to O’Brien’s Group One haul as part of a major Ballydoyle raid on this week’s Breeders Cup at Del Mar in California.

The War Front colt is a 3-1 favourite in some lists for the Juvenile Turf contest while Rhododendron is also favourite for the Filly & Mare Turf.

What could prove the perfect cherry on top of an already record breaking season would be if Churchill or War Decree finally manage to provide O’Brien with success in the Breeders Cup Classic on dirt.

Just three days after that, O'Brien's Group One reach could also extend to Australia where Johannes Vermeer is as low as 8-1 to land the Melbourne Cup.

The Irish flat season winds up at Naas this Sunday but the Bank Holiday Monday focus is resolutely on the jumps.

Both testing ground and ratings look to favour A Genie In Abottle in Wexford’s Listed Chase feature.

There will be plenty interest though in Galway's Beginners Chase where the last two winners of Cheltenham's Pertemps Final - Presenting Percy and Mall Dini - are both set to carry the colours of owner Philip Reynolds.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column