Owner living the life of O'Reilly

Master O'Reilly won last year's Caulfield Cup and rider Vlad Duric and trainer Danny O'Brien were front and centre in the mounting-yard celebrations. In a Where's Wally situation, reporters were asking: "Where's William?"

William is Bill Sutcliffe, who owns 90% of the Master with his wife Denise after handing 10% to his Cranbourne trainer Judy Mawer when he sent the horse to town.

Sutcliffe sent sons Liam and Rory to accept the post-cup plaudits, happy in his anonymity and proud of his boys' presentation.

Late on cup night, he answered a call from The Age. Politely, he said he preferred to keep his silence, but opened the door slightly to a piece about the next Caulfield Cup. Next is now, and Sutcliffe, an early-50s businessman —Micor Packaging is his main concern — cheerfully, even apologetically, invited The Age, sans camera, into his Mount Eliza home to talk about his horse.

We can report that the Dubliner came to Australia as a 13-year-old in 1969 and still speaks with an Irish lilt. And he has had the ride of his life since he bought Master O'Reilly for $NZ75,000 as a two-year-old on the advice of NSW breeding buff John Brown and Victorian trainer Fran Houlahan. "If it (the bidding) had reached 76,000, I was gone," he said in describing the price as a shocking amount of money.

The horse began racing at three and attracted O'Brien as he won races for Mawer at four. O'Brien continued the gelding's progress and he is a strong chance tomorrow to add to his $2 million prizemoney and win his second Caulfield Cup and, on November 4, make up for last year's eighth when favourite in the Melbourne Cup.

Duric had impressed Sutcliffe when he was fifth at Werribee on Master O'Reilly at his second ride. "He said, 'I am so sorry, I should have won that race'. That sold me then and there," Sutcliffe said.

The owner could well be Duric's public relations man, saying he was Australia's best-kept secret as a jockey, and ...

He had given him the cup-winning silks.

He would give him the cup — he said it was worth $80,000 — "when we're done looking at that".

Master O'Reilly would retire to Duric's Nar Nar Goon property, perhaps after this spring.

And he was looking for business opportunities with the jockey when he quit riding.

"Vlad and I are going to do something in business," Sutcliffe said. "He's such a good operator, he's just that focused."

Told that Sutcliffe had mentioned his plans to The Age, Duric said this week: "We haven't come up with anything concrete, but Bill's a very good businessman and he respects what I've done through Master O'Reilly with him and the way I conduct myself. He's always said I'm a good operator ... I'd be more than happy to start something up with him."

Of the cup, he said: "Something like that belongs with him, as the man who had the vision to buy the horse. I would not want to take something like that off him."

He will take the horse. "I've already got a paddock there ready for him, and a shelter," he said.

Duric is yet to sign and frame the colours, as Sutcliffe has asked, because he is tossing up wearing the cup-winning set, "for luck".

O'Brien guiding Master O'Reilly to group 1 level also has Sutcliffe talking about "Australia's best trainer". Asked how he improved the horse, O'Brien said that Master O'Reilly had become a bit more seasoned, a bit more experienced.

The trainer described Sutcliffe as an obliging owner who "has backed us in to only have the two starts to the Caulfield Cup", a light staying preparation. Asked if winning the Melbourne Cup was the goal, O'Brien said: "That'd be great. I'm sure Bill'd be happy with another Caulfield Cup, too."

Sutcliffe has graduated from someone who didn't want to put the mockers on last year's campaign by talking up his horse to an owner who can't wait for seconds, in the top-up sense of the word.

Will he be at Caulfield this year? Initially, he said he was unsure because an afternoon party had been planned at home for family and friends, but sons Liam, Rory and Sean, who wasn't there last year, would be. Later, with a twinkle in his eye, he said he would go.

Duric will appreciate him being there, in the short and long term. "I'll put it to you this way," he said. "I haven't met an owner like him. He's a kind person, he's very generous, he's been fantastic to my family. Even when the horse has been beaten, he's a good loser. I haven't got one bad thing to say about the guy. He's changed my life."

And, this year, Sutcliffe is happy to talk about it.

By Stephen Howell

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Photo by Bruno Cannatelli, to view Bruno's website click here