Fourteen trainers from Great Britain, France and Ireland will saddle runners in the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on Saturday. The 13 who are not Aidan O'Brien have been training for a combined total of more than 300 years, and have won 15 English Classics between them.
The one who is Aidan O'Brien has held a licence for 19 years and if Camelot, the hot favourite, wins the Guineas, O'Brien will have 15 all by himself. Yet it is O'Brien, who has seen and done it all so many times before, who may need this Classic more than any of his rivals.
It will not be a career-changer for O'Brien if either Camelot or his second-string Power takes the Guineas, as it could be for a trainer like John Quinn or Alan McCabe. His talent needs no advertisement, and he could retire on Sunday and still be remembered in 50 years' time as one of the most successful trainers that Flat racing has seen.
O'Brien, though, has a different set of pressures and objectives, and a different master too. It is not whether you win Classics, but how many that counts when your stable's primary role is to create stallions for the Coolmore Stud, the world's most successful, and lucrative, bloodstock operation. And winning Classics, in Great Britain at least, is something that, for the last four years, O'Brien has failed to do.
Such is the ubiquity of O'Brien-trained runners in the world's major races that his losing streak in the English Classics has gone relatively unnoticed, but since Henrythenavigator beat New Approach by a nose in the 2,000 Guineas four years ago, O'Brien has saddled at least one runner in the two Guineas races, the Derby, Oaks and St Leger, a total of 53 horses in all, without adding another success to his already extensive list.
Some of his losers, of course, were pacemakers or rank outsiders, horses who ran in Classics because they had the pedigree to do so even if they didn't have the form, and took part as a shot to nothing. Some of those ran far better than might have been expected, including At First Sight, the runner-up in the 2010 Derby at 100-1.
Plenty, though, had both the pedigree and the form to be worthy favourites. There are 9-4 and 3-1 shots sprinkled throughout O'Brien's losing streak in the Classics, and the most pertinent of them all with today's race in mind was the shortest price of all too. St Nicholas Abbey started the even-money favourite for the 2,000 Guineas two years ago but finished only sixth, and the parallels with Camelot are too obvious to ignore.
St Nicholas Abbey arrived at Newmarket as a lightly raced son of Montjeu. So does Camelot. St Nicholas Abbey had completed his two-year-old campaign with an impressive success in the Group One Racing Post Trophy. So did Camelot. And Camelot will also set off as favourite not just for the 2,000 Guineas this afternoon, but for next month's Derby at Epsom too, for which the Newmarket Classic is often said to be the best of the trials.
St Nicholas Abbey did not run in the Derby, indeed he did not race again as a three-year-old, which shows how quickly promise can turn to dust in the early weeks of the Flat season. Camelot, meanwhile, is even more of an unknown quantity, having beaten a total of eight horses in his two races to date.
An important difference, though, is that while St Nicholas Abbey was running as an advertisement for his sire, one of Coolmore's star performers, Camelot, is one of the candidates to be his successor, as Montjeu died at the relatively young age of 16 earlier this year. It was a huge loss to Coolmore, following on from the retirement of Sadler's Wells, Montjeu's sire, in 2008 and left a significant gap in their roster. A Classic win for Camelot would make him one of the favourites to fill it.
If any of this these precedents and possibilities tumble through O'Brien's mind as the runners start to parade before the Guineas, it will not show. His intensity and attention to detail is the same whether he is saddling a maiden or a Group One winner, and he focuses so tightly on his horses and the mission at hand that he can seem almost detached from everything else.
In addition to the professional pressures, though, on Saturday there is a personal one too. Joseph O'Brien, the trainer's oldest son, has not been officially installed as the yard's principal jockey, but the fact the he rides Camelot, with Ryan Moore aboard Power, is the next best thing to a coronation.
Aidan O'Brien has already ticked off all the English Classics. How he would love to do it all again, with his son – and possible heir as the master of Ballydoyle – holding the reins. It could all start with Camelot, and after 53 straight losers in Flat racing's showpiece events, the finest trainer of his generation is overdue.
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