My friendly rivalry with Kavanagh

SEVEN years ago, in the winter of 2000, when my stable totalled the grand number of four horses, I decided to take half the team, Porto Roca and Lungarno, to the Adelaide carnival, writes Danny O'Brien.

Relatively new and with few contacts, I needed somewhere to base myself at Morphettville. I was pointed in the direction of another trainer who was also trying to establish himself.

He had just taken the big step of moving from his home base of Mt Gambier to boxes at Morphettville, but he took me in and looked after me for the next six weeks. That trainer was Mark Kavanagh.

At that carnival, Mark and I had a lot of fun and our first taste of Group 1 racing. Porto Roca ran third in the Australasian Oaks and Mark's gelding Mr Nelson ran second in the South Australian Derby.

It cemented a lasting friendship, one that has seen us help each other in achieving considerable success.

Some of my biggest results - the Adelaide Cup/Goodwood Handicap double with Demerger and Glamour Puss -- came from being located at Mark's stables.

Likewise I've had a string of Mark's Group 1 winners Undoubtedly (Blue Diamond), Divine Madonna (Emirates Stakes) and even Maldivian boarding at Flemington.

Now Mark has moved to Flemington and has the Caulfield Cup favourite, and I have two of the main chances, Douro Valley and Master O'Reilly, to gun him down.

The rise to prominence of Maldivian may seem to have happened in a rush this spring, but there has been a lot of hard work and patience involved to get him there.

Mark paid $195,000 for Maldivian at the Easter Yearling Sale in 2004. For the next two years he did a lot of growing and Mark was patient about his development.

So much so that a week from turning four, in July 2006, Maldivian had yet to race. Not always the easiest job for a trainer to pull off when he has a client who has spent big money on a yearling.

Maldivian had also been a real handful in the barriers, so when he did race for the first time he was in the care of renowned horseman Shane Bottomley, who had put his barrier manners right.

Maldivian was sent out a 25-1 chance in an 1100m race at Caulfield and was just grabbed on the line by Spielmeister.

I had a greater insight into how talented Maldivian was when he progressed through the autumn to win the Easter Cup, defeating Douro Valley by a length.

As we're all aware, Maldivian has really progressed, culminating in his first Group 1 win last week. Can he back up and win the cup tomorrow?

Certainly, Maldivian deserves to be favourite.

From barrier one he will either lead or settle in the box seat, and coming to the home turn, he will look the winner.

It is only from then we will find out if he deserves to be a $2.50 chance. The unknown for Maldivian is the last 400m. He has never been past 2000m.

My two runners will definitely be hitting their top from the home turn. Douro Valley will track Maldivian throughout and a month ago in the Naturalism Stakes he was able to worry him out of first prize in an exciting finish.

Significantly, Douro Valley has also improved considerably, as evidenced by a terrific fourth to Devil Moon in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes.

Master O'Reilly, coming off an impressive win in the Group 2 Winning Edge, will be eating up the ground in the last 200m.

He will improve again at the 3200m of the Melbourne Cup. Whoever wins tomorrow will have earned it. The nature of the Caulfield Cup, a high-class, high-pressure race at the classic distance of 2400m, means it is never won by a weak horse. It takes a tough, well-trained horse to absorb it all and triumph.

All the great trainers have won it. I would dearly love to get my name on the list with them.

I'm sure Mark would, too. Whatever the result, we will probably give each other a little wink in the mounting yard before the race and think of how things have changed since Adelaide in 2000.

by Danny O'Brien

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