December winner becoming man for all seasons

TO FIND the real story in trainer Danny O'Brien's winners at Flemington yesterday, you have to look back to the equivalent meeting 12 months ago, and then to last May and, finally, the recent Melbourne Cup carnival.

Yesterday, O'Brien took his metropolitan tally to 12 wins from his past 30 runners — and 16 for the season — when Maxerelle (Flemington On Boxing Day, 1400 metres) and Ambouli (Carbine Club, 1100m) won impressively.

The results reflected the wins of Ferocity, Demerger and Kepola on this day in 2004. Glamour Puss and Valedictum also ran that day and, with Demerger, they bring the other dates into play — Glamour Puss and Demerger won group 1 races in May and Valedictum joined Glamour Puss as group 1 successes over the Flemington carnival.

It is rare for elite winners to emerge in a batch from a nondescript pre-Christmas meeting.

With five starters yesterday, including second-placed Exclusivity in the Shaftesbury Avenue Handicap, the trainer might again get bigger dividends from planned campaigns and patiently prepared horses.

He might need them, too, having revealed in The Age yesterday that he had spent $2 million on 65 hectares at Barwon Heads, where over the next three to five years he plans to spend up to $4 million more to build a super stable to run in tandem with his Flemington yard.

As with last season, this is O'Brien time. He said it was too simplistic to write that he is hot after being cold with only one winner in the first dozen weeks of the season, explaining that the early months were quiet because that was the plan in best placing his horses — for the present and future.

Again trek back through the records and you see that last season's first winner for O'Brien came at the start of November, and the post-spring push began his roll to third place in the trainers' premiership with 38 winners by season's end.

This season there was one city winner before Flemington's spring carnival week, Ferocity, in the group 2 Ascot Vale Stakes.

He won the group 2 race because, as a $100,000 Lionhunter colt, he had the class to do so. Injured, he has been sold to stud at a considerable profit to owners.

The other, cheaper horses in the stable were being aimed for the easier post-spring months and perhaps onto richer races when mature enough.

Three-year-old Last Tycoon-filly Ambouli did not start racing until November 5, and yesterday made it three from three in beating two bluebloods, Leveller and Langness.

O'Brien used a football analogy in comparing his horses to the dearer buys raced by Lee Freedman or David Hayes, saying his yearlings had been "fourth-and-fifth-round draft choices", whereas the big two got the top 10 picks that were forward types and, therefore, more expensive.

"Demerger and Valedictum were $20,000 yearlings, as was Forest Spy," he said.

Ambouli and last week's Sandown winner Be Delicious came to O'Brien from their breeders in Western Australia and New Zealand.

O'Brien said he hoped they were the types to reach group class.

"They're high-class three-year-old fillies. We've been a bit patient with them," he said.

"That (Ambouli's event) was near enough to a listed race, so we'll look for a stakes race for her in the autumn."

Jockey Steven Arnold, winner on Maxerelle ($5), said O'Brien was "a really good trainer on the way up".

"He's willing to style himself on the best and he's climbing his way up the ladder pretty quick."

Arnold also rode the consistent Forest Spy yesterday, a drifter from $3.10 to $4.60 equal favourite.

He was sixth across the line in the Australian Lamb Company Handicap (1700m) before being promoted to fifth after a protest.

O'Brien's fillies Ambouli and Be Delicious can certainly be regarded as potential group winners. But even if one doesn't step up by next November, pencil the mid-December meeting and the name O'Brien in your 2006 diary.

by Stephen Howell - The Age

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