Even by his stratospheric standards Aidan O'Brien had a season to remember, the legendary trainer breaking the world record for Group/Grade One winsEven by his stratospheric standards Aidan O'Brien had a season to remember, the legendary trainer breaking the world record for Group/Grade One wins (AFP Photo/GLYN KIRK)
Paris (AFP) - A softly-spoken Irish father and son, a fast-talking Italian and a courageous steeplechaser from Scotland who had the last laugh at Aintree lit up the racing year.
Even by his stratospheric standards Aidan O'Brien had a season to remember, the legendary trainer breaking the world record for Group/Grade One wins.
Saxon Warrior's success in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster on October 28 supplied the 48-year-old with his 26th win of 2017 to overtake late US trainer Bobby Frankel's mark set in 2003.
A week later O'Brien's Mendelssohn hit the target at the Breeders' Cup to make it 27.
Among those contributing to the magic tally were Winter, winner of the 1,000 Guineas in England and Ireland, the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot and Nassau at Goodwood.
Churchill took both English and Irish 2,000 Guineas while Wings Of Eagles delivered O'Brien's sixth Epsom Derby.
O'Brien, backed by the mighty Coolmore breeding empire, was typically modest. "I am but a small link in a big chain," he suggested, fooling no one.
O'Brien had high hopes of finishing off the year with a bang in the Melbourne Cup on the first Tuesday in November.
His contender, Johannes Vermeer, fell half a length short, beaten by Rekindling, trained in a fairytale twist by O'Brien's 24-year-old son, Joseph.
Rarely can defeat have ever tasted so sweet.
O'Brien missed out on another of racing's jewels, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, to one of the Sport of Kings' crown princes, Frankie Dettori.
The charismatic Milan-born master horseman celebrated a record fifth Arc triumph on 10-11 favourite Enable, triggering Dettori's trademark flying dismount into the arms of owner Prince Khalid Abdullah.
"Magnifique," beamed Dettori, 47, whose race-winning manouevre pulling his mount to the outside to avoid getting hemmed in on the home turn was applauded by John Gosden.
"It was a very clever ride by Frankie," said the man who crafted Enable's faultless path to the Arc with wins in the English and Irish Oaks and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and the Oaks at York.
- 'Plan F!' -
If things went all Enable's way in France that was certainly not the case for odds-on favourite Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup back in March.
But Bob Baffert's 2016 Breeders Cup Classic winner overcame a sloppy start under Mike Smith to land the $10 million prize and become the sport's highest earning horse with $17mn banked.
"That was 'Plan F'!," said Baffert. "But that's the best I've ever seen in my life, it's unbelievable."
The Dubai World Cup was no longer able to market itself as the world's richest race, that boast now claimed by the $12mn Pegasus World Cup, with Arrogate annexing the inaugural edition at Gulfstream Park in Florida in January.
Australia is now home to the third richest race on the planet in the $10mn Everest, with Redzel trained by father and son team Peter and Paul Snowden winning its first running at Randwick.
The Everest is 143 years younger than Churchill Downs' venerable Kentucky Derby with Always Dreaming winning the first leg of the US Triple Crown.
His hopes of racing immortality were dashed in the Preakness won by Cloud Computing with Puerto Rican jockey guiding Tapwrit to success in the concluding leg, the Belmont, a year after his elder brother triumphed on Creator.
The Belmont has a proud history dating back to 1867, but Aintree's Grand National stretches back even further, to 1839 with the aptly named Lottery the first winner.
Fast forward to April's 170th running of the world's most famous steeplechase and there was no hint of a fluke about the winner, One For Arthur.
The 14-1 shot was supplying Scotland with only its second ever success, with Lucinda Russell becoming the fourth woman to train a National winner.
For jockey Derek Fox thoughts of punching home the winner of the four and a half mile marathon had seemed a distant dream a few weeks before after suffering a serious arm injury.
"Some of us will never be a champion jockey but this is a day when the likes of me can strike against the big boys," said the 24-year-old Irishman.
Another woman trainer, Ireland's Jessica Harrington, guided Sizing John to Cheltenham Gold Cup glory and her brilliant steeplechaser is 9-2 favourite to repeat the feat in National Hunt racing's blue riband in March.