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Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor's Latest Blog

Steady As She Goes

Kinane, Murtagh and Moore riding for Team Ballydoyle at York in 2007Kinane, Murtagh and Moore riding for Team Ballydoyle at York in 2007
© Photo Healy Racing

Government and big business have jostled for headlines in the last week but still pale next to the good old-fashioned rumour train which continues to reverberate with those supposedly in the know torn between dismissing speculation about Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle future as a storm in a tea-cup or inevitable spillage from a pressure cooker situation just waiting to boil over.

Since there isn't a person within racing prepared to concede they might not be in-the-know, this is a 24/7 train with only occasional stops at reality. But there has been such consistency to whispers about tension between O'Brien and the Coolmore ownership that it forced David O'Meara into stating last week there is no basis to stories about him taking over at the world's most famous and successful training yard.

A contrasting steadfast refusal to publicly comment on speculation is an understandable Coolmore/Ballydoyle tactic: the set-up is the focus of so much public fascination that commenting on every whisper would involve commenting every day. But there's nothing rumour feeds on more than a vacuum, especially when the phrase 'pressure cooker atmosphere' appears to be a daily reality.

That some of the finest jockeys in racing history have enjoyed only limited tenures at Ballydoyle testifies to that pressure. No one ever accused Mick Kinane or Johnny Murtagh of lacking resolve but eventually they made their excuses and left. Jamie Spencer lasted just a year, leaving on the back of a series of blunders that reportedly left Michael Tabor in particular less than impressed.

Believe what you hear and this time Tabor is less than impressed at the prospect of Joseph O'Brien riding the top horses in the continuing and worrying absence of Ryan Moore. This is hardly the first time differences of opinion over riding arrangements have arisen but the obvious difference now is the family element.

Certainly for someone so politic and ever-sensitive to the public connotations of what he says, all this hoopla must jar with Aidan O'Brien. But those predicting his imminent departure, or those detecting some imminent fall of the Ballydoyle empire, should he go, need to keep some things in mind.

That Joseph O'Brien enjoyed the status of undisputed No.1 jockey for the number of years before his weight became an issue is vivid testament to the status his father is held in by the Coolmore partners, and especially John Magnier.

O'Brien Jnr has turned himself into a good jockey but no one can pretend he is a great jockey in the mould of Moore, Kinane or Murtagh. However his input at the coal-face on a day to day basis is valued, which was readily taken into account by the owners. That one of them might now be unhappy at the idea of the jockey being in the hot-seat on the big days doesn't dilute the regard O'Brien Snr continues to be held in.

But even should all the gossip about tensions actually result in some form of split, the end of the Ballydoyle world will hardly be nigh.

O'Brien is unquestionably a great trainer who has consistently maximised the material he has been given to work with to rewrite the record books. However it is hugely presumptive to argue others couldn't have achieved the same results with the same material. Graveyards are full of the indispensable. So on balance, and at the risk of mixing metaphors, logic surely says the win-win situation for all concerned is to keep the Ballydoyle ship steady as she goes.

Billions are involved in the Paddy Power-Betfair online merger which appears to be a 'win-win' for all concerned too. It depends on the deal skipping past competition authority scrutiny although it's hard to believe that issue hasn't been intensively analysed in the negotiations. The detail of what it means for punters remains unclear but in a very general sense, doesn't it seem odd how the digital environment promises immense diversity yet choice appears to be continually shrinking in a flood of corporate manoeuvring.

There's been plenty manoeuvring between the Turf Club and the Department of Agriculture in recent times but it appears like the regulatory body's defiance, including threatening legal action against the long-awaited Horse Racing Ireland bill as it stood, has finally caught the ears of department officials.

Weekend reports appear to indicate a new 'happy family' structural vibe over the €55 million Curragh redevelopment, along with another of Minister Simon Coveney's 'by the end of the year' missives over the future of a bill which will outline the governance structure for Irish racing into the future.

That has to be good news for all concerned, especially those elements within the Turf Club who have been taking a tough stance against all those lining up to take pot-shots at the body or those determined to dilute its influence. It's no secret that those elements are mainly concentrated on the National Hunt side - funny that.

And finally, it is interesting stalls are going to be employed at the upcoming Laytown meeting. One seasoned observer didn't believe it and contacted this space to find out if, and I quote, "someone's taking the piss - like when you suggested the Grand National should be started from stalls."

Well, no; no one's taking anything, although I would still suggest using stalls to relieve Aintree from its perennially contentious starting issues is no more outlandish than wheeling them onto a beach. The intellectually titanic argument against using stalls at Liverpool appears to extend no further than the National is a National Hunt race and stalls aren't used in National Hunt racing.

Well, take a gander back at Ruby Walsh's wonderful Australian National victory and examine the start: yup, stalls, just as they were employed when Blackstairsmountain won Japan's biggest JUMPS race. Hands up anyone who thinks forty stalls won't fit into the Liverpool start area? Or is knicker elastic too much of a tradition to boot out.