Why is Aidan O’Brien struggling in the UK this year?

The Curragh 2018

You don’t need to be an avid horse racing fan to know the name of Aidan O’Brien, with the Master of Ballydoyle having a worldwide reputation as perhaps the leading trainer of his generation. With twenty-eight wins at the top table in 2017, he set the record for the most Group 1 victories in a calendar year. It has, however, been a torrid year for O’Brien, with his struggles well documented throughout this campaign. With plenty of horses underperforming this year, mainly in the UK, we’ve had a detailed look into the situation at Ballydoyle to try and deduce just why this has been such a tough time for the yard.

The Facts

In the past five seasons (January 2014 to December 2018), Aidan O’Brien has sent his runners over the Irish Sea a total of 618 times, with 101 of them returning to the winner’s enclosure. That equates to a 16% strike-rate and given most of those runners will have competed in pattern races, that is a massive feat. This year, however, hasn’t lived up to expectations, with just fourteen runners returning winners from a total of 160 total runs. That is just a 9% strike-rate this campaign, with a total loss of £95.27 to level stakes. The problem, however, hasn’t affected figures in Ireland, with this year’s winning percentage higher than his five-year average. 24% of his 401 runners this campaign have returned winners, with his average since January 2014 standing at 21%.

The Virus

It’s been well documented that Aidan O’Brien’s team has struggled with a yard-wide virus this season which is really hampering his efforts. Horses were struggling with flu-like symptoms and as a result, he’s been unable to get them to full fitness at the same time he has in previous seasons. Given how small the window is at the top level, even a week’s disruption can make a massive difference to the way horses will run, especially given the travelling they also face.


As previously stated, you don’t need to be a horse racing aficionado to know the name Aidan O’Brien. Horses baring his name already have a big expectation placed on them, even before they’ve hit the track. Given his incredible success in recent seasons, his horses tend to always be at the forefront of the market, even if their form doesn’t quite warrant the price. As a result, especially in the big British races, his horses go off at very short prices and when they lose, his string is always heavily scrutinised.

With so many of his horses bred by the best and having enormous price-tags, they always have extra attention pressed onto them, regardless of what they’ve achieved. Given that he’s produced plenty of worldbeaters in recent seasons, there is perhaps the chance this hasn’t been a lucky year for him. In the past five seasons he’s had a 23% strike-rate with his two-year-olds in Britain, conversely, this year he’s only had three winners from twenty-six horses sent to this country, a 12% strike-rate. It’s a similar story with his three-year-olds too, with just 9% of his 101 runners returning winners this campaign, compared with a 15% strike-rate from the past five year’s combined. Perhaps we just have to accept that this year’s Ballydoyle crop isn’t quite as good as we thought.


This situation clearly can’t be narrowed down to just one reason, though the virus that has plagued the yard has clearly played a massive role in the poor performances we’ve seen this campaign. Perhaps we can use this as a time to reflect on the achievements of O’Brien in recent seasons and admire just how fantastic his operation is, given this is the first time in many years he’s had a rough patch quite like this. He has an extremely talented team surrounding him and there can be no doubts that Ballydoyle will return with a vengeance, and it could just be around the corner. With some big races just around the corner, all our ITV Racing Tips and previews will have every runner covered, with plenty likely to come from the Irish Maestro himself!

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