John Oxx began winning classics in 1987 (Eurobird, Irish St Leger) and has been one of Europe’s great trainers ever since. He has been responsible for two horses who both won the Epsom Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in the same season (Sinndar and Sea The Stars), two Irish Derby winners (Sinndar and Alamshar), a Breeders’ Cup winner (Ridgewood Pearl in the Mile) and two Cartier European Horses of the Year (Ridgewood Pearl, 1995, and Sea The Stars, 2009).
Oxx, who trains at Carrabeg on the Curragh, is as renowned for his calm, reasoned approach to his craft as he is for his achievements on the track, which makes him an ideal subject in our What They’re Thinking series in Irish Derby week.
Who do you think is the most important figure in world racing history?
This is difficult to say but it may well be King Charles II, who is generally considered to be the man who made Newmarket in the UK a venue for racing. His love of the sport was instrumental in initiating racing into the fabric of English society and racing flourished during his lifetime. In 1664, he instituted the Newmarket Town Plate, and shortly thereafter the importation of the foundation sires of the modern Thoroughbred introduced the breeding of the Thoroughbred we recognise today.
King Charles’s niece, Queen Anne, built on this foundation and the spread of the British Empire brought racing around the world and caused it to become an international sport. We can only speculate but, perhaps, without King Charles, racing would never have developed as we recognise it today.
Which is your favourite venue and race?
I really have two. Firstly my local course, the Curragh, which is a great track and home of the Irish classics. It is here that the Irish Derby is the pinnacle of some very high-class racing throughout the year. I am excited by the new development and feel the Curragh will be greatly enhanced as a result.
Secondly, Epsom on Derby Day has a special feel to it. The Epsom Derby is of such historical significance in the development of the breed, and the unique contours of the track are responsible for that because the winner requires blend of speed and stamina.
What is your fondest memory in racing?
Training Sea the Stars. The privilege and pleasure of watching him every day, planning his work and seeing him develop into one of the greats. (Watch Sea The Stars win the 2009 Arc below.)
What do you see as the biggest challenge racing faces today?
Trying to keep racing popular and keeping people interested in spite of a great deal of competition from other attractions. It is important to make racing attractive for everyone, and that is not only about bringing people through the turnstiles. People need to have ownership of horses for smaller money through syndicates and clubs so that they feel like stakeholders in the sport.
If you could change one thing in racing, what would it be?
Following on the success of Dundalk Racecourse, it would seem to me that it should be a possibility to have another all-weather track in Ireland with extra fixtures, which are badly needed and would give smaller trainers and owners more opportunities.