Why this man is out on his own as the world’s top trainer of the last decade

Aidan O’Brien: The master of Ballydoyle has spent 146 as World Number One in the TRC Global Rankings. Photo: focusonracing.com

We have zero doubt that Aidan O’Brien is the greatest trainer of the TRC Global Rankings era. As our rankings have now completed their first decade, we are choosing to summarise the history of each category by means of the data. And there is no more obvious conclusion than the Irish trainer being the tops.

While many racing fans would instantly concur with the expression that O’Brien’s career justifies the belief that he has no peers, we have reached the same conclusion by quantitative methods.

TRC Global Rankings constructs a massive network of comparisons between every trainer in the world using the results of Group and Graded races, considering the head-to-head match-ups between their horses as evidence of their impact on the sport.

To repeat: we have found no more effective mathematical device for predicting future results than paired comparisons between competitors, weighted according to the sustainability of the relationships which they describe.

In the rankings of November 5, 2017, O’Brien had won so many of these key match-ups that his Performance Index rose to 1098.

This isn’t some abstract figure, but it translates to what is known as an odds ratio, an objective measure of competitive strength. We cannot go anywhere close to saying these figures are training skill, because any attempt to infer that from a trainer’s results is confounded by the different quality of their horses.

You could say that a trainer’s true skill is his or her ability to assemble a coterie of powerful owners and persuade each one of them continuously that their best interests are being served.

O’Brien is a phenomenon. At his peak TRC Performance Index, he had saddled 148 Group winners in the rolling 3-year-window we use to measure a trainer’s impact. No fewer than 66 of these came at G1 level, with 30 in G2s and 52 in G3s.

As last week’s article on jockeys chose to say of O’Brien’s No 1 jockey Ryan Moore, we have severe doubts these numbers will ever be eclipsed. Perhaps O’Brien’s most notable TRC-related statistic is the staggering 146 weeks at World Number One.

Only six trainers have ever reached World Number One, as opposed to eight jockeys, as detailed last time. Moreover, it is easy to infer from the table that only eight trainers have ever occupied the top three slots.

Charlie Appleby, the Godolphin trainer, is the current World Number One. Over the last three years, he has proved beyond all doubt he can make the magic happen for Sheikh Mohammed’s operation.

Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert have dominated U.S. racing during the TRC era. It is surprising that Baffert has never made the top spot, but nobody has a better hand of Classic aspirants in 2020 than the California-based handler, even though one of his most important prospects, Nadal, has just been retired through injury. Nevertheless, it is Chad Brown, on the opposite coast, who is more likely to send out Group winners right now, according to our numbers.

Winx’s trainer, Chris Waller, is the clear Australian Number One in the table. He has been eclipsed by another Godolphin trainer, James Cummings, over the last year, but Bart’s grandson still has some way to go to match Waller’s peak rating of 1060.

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