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Last Updated: Friday, 14 February, 2003, 10:26 GMT
Racing's all-time favourite
By Frank Keogh
BBC Sport Online

An Irishman whose name would barely cause a flicker in a 21st century obsessed by celebrity has been voted horse racing's all-time great.

Trainer Vincent O'Brien saw off the challenge of legendary jockey Lester Piggott and a host of other big names to finish first in the poll.

O'Brien may not be a household name in most modern-day homes, but in racing circles and his homeland he is quite simply a legend.

Now in his ninth decade, M.V. O'Brien won every race that counted in Britain and Ireland during a training career that spanned more than half a century.

1 Vincent O'Brien
2 Lester Piggott
3 Sheikh Mohammed
4 Tony McCoy
5 Fred Archer
6 Martin Pipe
7 Sir Gordon Richards
8 Sir Henry Rous
9 Fred Winter
10 Queen Mother
11 Phil Bull
12 Frankie Dettori

And more than that, he triumphed both over the jumps and on the Flat.

He is the only man to have trained three consecutive Grand National winners.

O'Brien was also in charge of the most recent Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky, who claimed the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger in 1970.

These are the type of victories which cannot be erased from the record books or wiped from the minds of racing enthusiasts.

When the Racing Post newspaper asked its readers to vote for their all-time greatest person via the phone and internet, debate raged over who should win.

But there could be only one winner.

O'Brien finished ahead of the influential owner-breeder Sheikh Mohammed and record-breaking jump jockey Tony McCoy, as well as Piggott.

Punters might argue Piggott deserves the mantle of all-time great as much as O'Brien, and the pair often teamed up to great effect.

But the brilliant rider may have paid the price for his tax evasion which saw him stripped of his OBE and consigned to jail for a year.

As for O'Brien, it is just recognition for a career littered with successes at the top of his profession.

From humble beginnings in County Cork, he rose to become master of the Ballydoyle stables, now headed by Aidan O'Brien (no relation).

Vincent won the 1948 Cheltenham Gold Cup with his first runner in Britain, Cottage Rake.

The horse went on to complete a hat-trick of wins in jump racing's blue riband event, and Hatton's Grace did the same in the Champion Hurdle.

I'm really touched - it's like winning a couple of Derbys!
Vincent O'Brien on being voted No. 1

Three successive winners of the Grand National at Aintree - Early Mist, Royal Tan and Quare Times - confirmed O'Brien's standing in the early 1950s.

Add to that no less than 23 wins at the Cheltenham Festival, including the Gloucestershire Hurdle 10 times, and his National Hunt record stands the closest scrutiny.

O'Brien progressed to dominate Flat racing, where he clinched 15 British Classics and a total of 25 winners at Royal Ascot.

The horses he trained became names etched in racing folklore: The Minstrel, Sir Ivor, Roberto...

And his legacy lives on with the modern-day Ballydoyle and the hugely successful Coolmore Stud breeding operation.

It is said that O'Brien chose to train racehorses rather than open a butcher's shop.

His loss to the meat trade is unknown - his benefit to the race meet business is immeasurable.

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