Living the life of O'Reilly

AS DANNY O'Brien had his day in the sun with his Caulfield Cup quinella on Saturday, 10-day old Thomas O'Brien had his yesterday.

"He's never been out in the sun. It's so bright," said O'Brien's partner Nina Begagic at the trainer's Flemington stables yesterday.

So was the parental glow, especially from 37-year-old O'Brien, who cradled his son while holding Master O'Reilly, the horse who gave him his greatest race win, and sixth group 1 success, when he stormed past stablemate Douro Valley up the Caulfield straight.

While the O'Briens were in the spotlight, assistant trainer Gino Mata and staff did their usual morning rounds and got seven runners ready for the Seymour meeting at which, exactly one year ago, Master O'Reilly won a class 1 race.

The gelding has come a long way in that time, having been transferred from Cranbourne trainer Judy Mawer, who won three of eight with him, to O'Brien, who has won five of 11, including one of Australia's great races.

O'Brien's progress has been spectacular, too. And just as well planned as Master O'Reilly's cups campaign — O'Brien noted that in his first preparation with him, the stayer's best run was his sixth and last — so has the Melbourne Cup a fortnight tomorrow as start No. 6 this time. Master O'Reilly is the $5 favourite.

O'Brien started at Epsom and moved to Flemington with the demise of the southern-suburban training centre.

He recalled that in 2000, he trained four horses from a six-box stable up the hill from the racecourse.

He moved on course with 20 boxes and when David Hall left to train in Hong Kong in 2004, he took over his 56-box stables. Recently, he added 27 in a new barn behind those.

Wait, there's more! Within 18 months, if work goes as planned, he also will have a multimillion-dollar training centre on 65 hectares at Barwon Heads up and running, keeping the main block at Flemington, too.

"Seven years feels like 70 when you're training horses. It's a long, slow process," he said of his move into on-course stables. He has continued to train winners and build up what he called the right staff.

"I've been lucky that I had people who just came along on the way and stuck with me," he said. "We've got a really good team of people who work with the horses. You can't train 70 unless you've got really good people."

O'Brien said earthmoving equipment was at Barwon Heads carving tracks and dams. "We'll have a capacity to train 120 or something there," he said. "Once you stop growing, you're dead in the water, and you know how competitive this business is.

"You must be building your infrastructure at the same time (as you expand). You see a lot of blokes have a bit of success and take on a lot more numbers and, all of a sudden, the wheels fall off.

"We're trying to plan so you do as good a job as they (Lee Freedman and David Hayes) do, or better.

"It's easy enough to train 40-50 horses. It's a bit different when David Hayes has 3000 starters in a year — we have 600. You've got to start to plan for that if you're going to get to that number or that level."

That is long term. Short term, Master O'Reilly and the Melbourne Cup on November 6 remain the focus.

O'Brien expects Master O'Reilly, penalised 1.5 kilograms after his Winning Edge success, to get another 1.5 or two kilograms for the 3200-metre race. "That would bring him up to three, 3½ kilos, which is about the standard whack," he said. "To counteract that, he's coming back to Flemington and he'll be a better horse out to two miles (3200 metres)."

O'Brien said he had tried to buy Master O'Reilly for "about half a million" and put together a syndicate of stable clients. Owner Bill Sutcliffe wouldn't part with the horse, but gave him to O'Brien to train. "He had an X-factor about him as a stayer," O'Brien said. "He would sit at the back and just amble up to them. Obviously, they were inferior horses, but he's still doing the same thing now. He ambles into a race, then he changes legs and pricks his ears on the line. "He's one of those horses who's just got that oxygen capacity that means when others are getting tired, he's just warming up."

And the trainer is warmed by what he saw as Master O'Reilly stood at the stables yesterday. "See the winter coat on his bum," he said. "It'll be gone on Melbourne Cup day."

by Stephen Howell - The Age

Read the full article here at The Age

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