SUCH are the standards set by Aidan O’Brien that a season in which he notched up 18 top-level triumphs could be regarded as a mixed one.

The Ballydoyle trainer’s classic crop endured mixed fortunes with his contenders for the 2000 Guineas and the Derby coming up short from the outset of the season. Yet, as the dust settles on 2021, there is no doubt that this was a year in which the trainer produced one of the finest talents to have passed through his hands in St Mark’s Basilica.

This now-retired son of Siyouni eschewed the traditional route for many top-class Ballydoyle colts in that he started his season with a victory in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) and he returned to France the following month to land the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby). At this stage his credentials as a top-class talent were well established, but his season was to get more impressive.

A smooth dismissal of Mishriff in the Eclipse marked him as a rare talent by even Ballydoyle standards before he edged out Tarnawa and Poetic Flare in a vintage Irish Champion Stakes which proved to be his final start. It was a pity that he did not get to race on after Leopardstown but his place as one of the outstanding Aidan O’Brien-trained colts is assured.

On the fillies’ front Snowfall went from looking like a capable filly to a middle-distance superstar as she routed her opponents to complete the rare Epsom-Irish-Yorkshire Oaks treble. She couldn’t quite sustain that form into the autumn but was streets clear of her contemporaries over a mile and a half.

Another top-notch filly was Santa Barbara who ran with credit in the 1000 Guineas and the Oaks before finding her best form with two successful Stateside raids. Sadly, an injury sustained in early September proved to be fatal and one was left with the impression that she was better than she ever got to show in a European setting.

We have by now become accustomed to the O’Brien two-year-olds carrying all before them but much of the season the Ballydoyle juveniles weren’t quite measuring up in the usual manner.

It was all change in September though as Luxembourg transitioned from a debut success at Killarney to land the Beresford Stakes, and even better was to come the following month when he landed the Futurity at Doncaster. It is no exaggeration to suggest the sky is the limit for him in 2022.


On the fillies’ front, an extraordinary effort was in the offing from the O’Brien-trained Tenebrism. Off the track since the second week of the turf season, she returned to the fray with a wondrous effort in the Cheveley Park Stakes. In terms of the juvenile fillies’ division there was nothing to touch this performance and she too looks one with limitless potential.

So as we head into the winter Aidan O’Brien is holding a couple of notable aces in Luxembourg and Tenebrism and it says much about the standards laid down by the master trainer that a year which yielded 17 Group 1 victories can be regarded as anything other than a major success.

Bolger makes waves on and off the track

BOTH on and off the track Jim Bolger was making serious waves. On the track Poetic Flare and Mac Swiney once again advertised his talents as both a trainer and breeder but his remarks on drug use in Irish racing garnered just as many headlines and continue to do so many months later.

Towards the latter part of 2020 the trainer remarked that he felt the number one problem in Irish racing is drug cheats. This was followed in June by an incendiary interview in the Sunday Independent with claims that there would be Lance Armstrong in Irish racing – a reference to the disgraced multiple Tour De France winner who was ultimately stripped of his titles.

Ever since his claims appeared in the Sunday Independent, Irish racing has found itself fighting these claims whose legacy will live into the future.

Teak-tough constitution

On the track Poetic Flare was the embodiment of what one would expect from a Bolger-trained champion as he displayed a level of class and quality to go with a teak-tough constitution. The Dawn Approach colt won the 2000 Guineas in May and actually contested both the French and Irish equivalents before running out a brilliant winner of the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. He would not win again but lost nothing in defeat on his subsequent starts before being sold to stand in Japan in October.

While Poetic Flare may have come up short in the Irish 2000 Guineas this was still a day to savour for the Bolger team as he was bested by stablemate Mac Swiney who coped admirably with very testing ground to pull off a famous success under Rory Cleary. This was the first classic and Group 1 success of Cleary’s career and was unquestionably one of the great moments of the season as the hugely popular jockey seized upon an opportunity on the big stage.