O'Brien aims for best of both worlds

FLEMINGTON trainer Danny O'Brien has bought a 65-hectare property at Barwon Heads to set up a state-of-the-art training base for 100 horses in addition to his 50-box Flemington stables.

O'Brien, 35, said yesterday he paid $2 million for the land, and O'Brien Thoroughbreds would invest another $3-4 million over the next three to five years to develop stables, which he said would be a showpiece in the southern hemisphere.

"It won't be cheap, but I'm committed to being at the top level," he said. "Not just in Australia, but hopefully global."

O'Brien plans to his expand his burgeoning business in the way Victoria's training benchmark Lee Freedman has done at Rye and the Hayes family did more than 30 years ago at Lindsay Park in South Australia.

He expects to have an advantage over Freedman in that his property is twice the size of Markdel and he will retain a city base, enabling him to shuttle horses from Barwon Heads, 15 minutes from Geelong, to Flemington, an hour away.

David Hayes, son of Lindsay Park founder the late Colin Hayes, has a float trip of up to 10 hours from Angaston to his Flemington stables.

O'Brien, third on the metropolitan trainers' list with 38 winners behind Caulfield's Mick Price (40) and Freedman (81) last season, is equal-fourth on the list this season after training 10 winners from his past 25 starters.

He and Caulfield-based Peter Moody have 14 winners, Price has 19, Hayes 33 and Freedman 48.

Freedman is the benchmark for the up-and-coming trainers in Victoria.

"There's only one guy we aspire to be, and that's Lee," O'Brien said. "He sets the standard in this state. We're going to school on what he's done."

What Freedman did was reinvent himself after becoming stale based at Caulfield. Since Mummify won the 2003 Caulfield Cup, he has resumed his role as the standout trainer and publicist for racing.

But O'Brien said he believed Freedman, who sold off some of the Rye land he bought so he could pay for Markdel, would be restricted by having only half the space the up-and-comer will have when he builds at Barwon Heads.

The property, now called Nullegai West, is a short walk from 13th Beach, already a popular work place for trainers who float their horses there.

O'Brien had been looking for a property for about a year, and found this one at the right place at the right time. He said the previous owner had it as an investment and, basically, it had been left idle.

O'Brien has surveyors at work on the property, which he will rename. He plans to build in stages and envisages having half a dozen different tracks.

He is familiar with the area because he has his horses pre-trained and refreshed at Kelvin Bourke's Drysdale stables, and can float them to the beach.

"Basically from the sales, horses can go there or here. It's the best of both worlds," O'Brien said at his Flemington stable. "The young horses can get their education on the track and the four and five-year-olds can freshen up on 13th Beach.

"No one in Australia will have better facilities."

O'Brien employs about 25 people at Flemington and, while he will call upon his core staff to run the dual stables, he envisages drawing on the Geelong area for new workers.

"I think I've got the best staff in Australian racing," he said. "They're young, they're dedicated and they've got pride in their job. And they're on the same page with my philosophy to improve ourselves, our system and our horses.

"To meet my goals over the next three to five years, I need these people."


PAID $2 million for 65 hectares at Barwon Heads ...

TO SPEND $3-4 million developing it for 100 horses ...

TO USE sand and surf at 13th Beach ...

TO RETAIN 50-box Flemington stables ...

TO SHUTTLE horses between both properties ...

TO HIRE staff from Geelong region.

by Stephen Howell - The Age

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