1. Hawk Wing (Timeform rating 136)
A big, close-coupled horse, Hawk Wing had an impressive, fluent action, and is Aidan O’Brien’s highest-rated horse on Timeform ratings. Hawk Wing won three of his four starts as a juvenile – his only defeat came at the hands of stablemate Rock of Gibraltar in the Railway Stakes – notably successful in the Futurity Stakes and National Stakes, both over seven furlongs at the Curragh.
Hawk Wing was the subject of glowing reports ahead of his reappearance in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in 2002, and has to go down as one of the most unluckiest losers of the race this century, travelling powerfully under Jamie Spencer in the stand-side group, producing a devastating turn of foot and beaten only a neck again by Rock of Gibraltar. Hawk Wing went on to finish second to High Chaparral in the Derby and win the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown later that season.
Hawk Wing did well physically from three to four, and it was in the 2003 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury where he achieved his 136 rating, producing a spectacular display that fulfilled all the hopes entertained for him as a two-year-old and after the Guineas. With no pacemaker for a change, he was sent straight into the lead and was never seriously threatened, drawing right away in the final furlong to win by 11 lengths. It was a superlative performance – backed up by an excellent timefigure – the most dramatic aspect of which was the way he left such high-class opposition toiling in his wake with as far as three furlongs to run.
2. Galileo (Timeform rating 134)
A neat, attractive colt, Galileo was a fluent mover with a tremendous stride, and was successful in his first six starts. Galileo won a back-end maiden at Leopardstown by 13 lengths on his sole start as a juvenile, looking a colt right out of the top drawer.
Galileo started his three-year-old campaign by winning the Ballysax Stakes and Derrinstown Derby Trial, both over a mile and a quarter at Leopardstown, before winning the Derby at Epsom, producing one of the best post-war performances in the race. Galileo was always well placed by Mick Kinane, just behind the leaders on the outside travelling sweetly, and was perfectly poised turning for home, shaken up and rousted clear over two furlongs out, immediately putting a seal on matters and still full of running at the line.
Only three rivals from Epsom returned to take on Galileo in the Irish equivalent the following month, and despite getting warm beforehand, Galileo recorded another easy success, always going well and drawing clear before being eased in the closing stages. Galileo went on the become the first horse since Generous in 1991 to complete the treble of the Derby, Irish Derby and King George when winning the last-named race on his next start, confirming himself Europe’s top middle-distance colt of 2001.
Rip Van Winkle (Timeform rating 134)
Rip Van Winkle won his first two starts as a juvenile – he was awarded the race on debut in the stewards’ room, but would have been a most unlucky loser – notably the Tyros Stakes at Leopardstown. He was sent off a warm favourite for the Dewhurst on his final start that season, and even though he was disappointing on the day, he still shaped like the best prospect in the race having not had the best preparation, and finished with running left after not having the clearest of runs.
It was in Rip Van Winkle’s three-year-old season that he developed into a top-class performer. After proving no match for Sea The Stars in the 2000 Guineas, the Derby and the Coral-Eclipse on his first three starts, Rip Van Winkle recorded a deserved win at the top level back at a mile in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. Rip Van Winkle followed up in the QEII at Ascot, though he had to do it the hard way, showing all his fine attributes, having no trouble with the very strong pace and pressing on nearly three furlongs out, saying plenty about his ability and staying power that he was going away again at the finish.
The 2010 Juddmonte International at York was Rip Van Winkle’s last success, producing another top-class performance to gain his third win in Group 1 company. Admittedly, the performance wasl a notch lower than his very best from 2009, but, under a more patient ride than usual, he did seem to save a bit for himself and had more in hand at the finish.
4. Stravinsky (Timeform rating 133)
A strong, well-made, attractive colt, Stravinsky enjoyed a tall reputation at home and duly landed the odds on debut in the Convivial maiden at York. He overcame a muddling affair on that occasion, and proved himself a top-class prospect when beaten half a length in second (subsequently demoted to last place) in the Prix de la Salamandre at Longchamp on his next start.
It took Stravinsky longer than anticipated to fulfil his true potential, but that could have been down to connections’ eagerness to turn him into a miler, and it was worth waiting for given the manner in which he demolished 13 previous pattern winners in the 1999 July Cup at Newmarket, breaking the track record in the process in a first-time visor.
Stravinsky didn’t need to reproduce that form to follow up in the Nunthorpe at York a month later, but he did win more emphatically than the one and a half length margin suggests. As expected, Stravinsky had no problem with the drop to five furlongs, travelling on the bridle in midfield before picking up ground in impressive fashion from halfway, and asserting under a hands-and-heels ride, gradually pulling clear without being asked for everything.
Rock of Gibraltar (Timeform rating 133)
The prolific Rock of Gibraltar was a close-coupled, medium-sized horse who developed into a top-class performer, and became the first horse in history to win seven Group 1s in a row when successful in the 2002 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp.
Rock of Gibraltar was a very smart juvenile, winning five times in total, notably successful in the Grand Criterium at Longchamp and the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket less than two weeks apart. His performance in the former race was very impressive, settled off the pace before easing into contention and then powering away once given the office to do so before being heavily eased (value for around six lengths, his rider possibly mistaking the winning post).
Rock of Gibraltar started at 9/1 when beating his better-fancied stablemate Hawk Wing in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on his return in 2002, and was perhaps lucky to do so, too, well positioned in the far side group and making his move faster than his stablemate. Wins in the Irish equivalent, the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood and the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp followed, making him one of the best milers of his era. Rock of Gibraltar was beaten a length in second on his final start in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Arlington, but he lost little in defeat, and is remembered as a tough, genuine and consistent horse with an excellent turn of foot.
George Washington (Timeform rating 133)
A strong, good-topped colt, George Washington showed signs of temperament, usually mulish in the preliminaries/at the start, and was often very keen to post, but he is very much remembered as a top-class performer.
George Washington didn’t have a precocious pedigree, but made his debut in May of his two-year-old season, and duly went on to win four of his five starts that season, notably the Phoenix Stakes and National Stakes, both at the Curragh. It was his eight-length success in the former race that marked him out as something out of the ordinary, the manner in which he put daylight between himself and his rivals something special.
George Washington was the ante-post favourite for the 2000 Guineas after his exploits at two, and he duly justified favouritism on his reappearance at Newmarket. Soon travelling supremely well, he cruised through the race on the bridle, quickly settling matters coming out of the Dip – despite drifting right under the whip – and idling once in front, leaving the impression that he had much more left in reserve. It was a shame how George Washington’s career ended, breaking down inside the final furlong (suffered multiple injuries to off-fore and put down) in Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth.
Fame And Glory (Timeform rating 133)
Fame And Glory was a rangy, good sort who won his first four starts. The first two came as a two-year-old, when beating a shorter-priced stablemate on debut, and showing much improved form to win the Criterium de Saint-Cloud on his final start that season.
His three-year-old campaign started with wins in the Ballysax Stakes and Derrinstown Derby Trial, both at Leopardstown, and Fame And Glory then started favourite for the Derby at Epsom ahead of 2000 Guineas winner Sea The Stars. Fame And Glory could only finish second to that rival – who finished his career rated 140 by Timeform – after enjoying a dream run, just outpaced in the closing stages by a superior rival.
It was in 2011 that Aidan O’Brien developed Fame And Glory into a high-class stayer, successful in his first two starts at listed level before winning the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. The principals were new names to the Gold Cup, but Fame And Glory had a very similar profile to recent winners, Irish trained for one thing, but above that following on from Yeats as an established classy Ballydoyle inmate reinvented as a stayer. Fame And Glory started the 4/5-on favourite to defend his crown the following year, but clearly was 100 per cent on that day, and never fulfilled his potential as a stayer.
So You Think (Timeform rating 133)
So You Think was a top-class performer in Australia before switching to Aidan O’Brien in 2011. He won four times that year, notably successful in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown and the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.
So You Think started at odds-on for both of those wins, beating 2010 Derby winner Workforce at Sandown, and then the 2010 Oaks winner Snow Fairy at Leopardstown. For both victories So You Think recorded a Timeform performance rating in the 130s, a remarkable consistent type who won 10 Group 1s in his career.
The tenth win at the highest level came on his final start in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, again starting an odds-on favourite in a renewal that lacked the usual depth. So You Think was up against some very smart rivals, but none in the calibre of himself, and he only needed to match his previous form to run out an impressive winner, always travelling strongly and showing a good attitude to see off a younger rival.
Excelebration (Timeform rating 133)
Excelebration has already proved himself top-class for Marco Botti in his three-year-old season, and in any other year, he would have been the best of his generation, finishing runner-up to only Frankel in the Greenham Stakes and QEII Stakes at Ascot. He was incredibly unlucky to be around at the same time as Frankel, his performance when runner-up in the QEII good enough to have won every other renewal this century.
Excelebration started life with Aidan O’Brien by winning the Gladness Stakes at the Curragh in 2012, before again finishing runner-up to Frankel on the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury and the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. However, he went one place better in the QEII later that season, recording his third win at Group 1 level, and, Frankel aside, producing the best performance from any other miler in recent years.
Just two weeks later Excelebration finished fourth to Wise Dan in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita, not at his best, but faster ground and a tighter track were possible excuses, notwithstanding that he had produced an excellent performance in the QEll beforehand.
*Who do you regard as the best horse trained by Aidan O'Brien? Email email@example.com with your suggestion and reasoning and we will publish a selection of the best responses