Master O'Reilly Captures an Abnormal Caulfield Cup

This has not been a normal year in Australian racing by any stretch of the imagination, so it was probably understandable that when the runners reached the starting gates for the AUS$2.6million Caulfield Cup (Aus-I) over 12 furlongs, things would be abnormal, too. And they were.

Raging-hot favorite Maldivian, who drew the inside post, and second favorite for the Cup, New Zealand mare Eskimo Queen, were both sensationally withdrawn about three minutes before the race.

Maldivian reared up in the stalls and sustained a gash on his neck that bothered him so much he continued to thrash around. He made the cut turn into a major wound that later required 15 stitches. In his distress, he caused Eskimo Queen to become unruly. She threw herself on the ground. Both horses were ordered out of the Cup. What has made things compelling post-race is the fact the device that caused the wound to Maldivian was placed there by television crew members who hoped to obtain close-up shots of the horse. Chief steward Des Gleeson knew nothing of the device being placed, and there will be likely legal ramifications.

Maldivian wasn’t just a favorite in a big race. He is an emerging superstar and was a dominant favorite. The scratchings marred the race completely, but it opened the door for a potential fairytale story to unfold with New Zealand-bred galloper Master O’Reilly, the model of consistency this time up with three wins and two placings from five starts, racing hard down the home stretch to catch his stablemate Douro Valley in the shadows of the post. Both horses are trained at Flemington by star young conditioner Danny O’Brien.

Princess Coup (Encosta de Lago-Stoneyfell Road), who is in Australia after showing she is New Zealand’s best stayer, plugged on gamely from midfield for third, although her rider, Glen Boss, will be cooling his heels on the sidelines for 13 race meetings after stewards thought he was too reckless with his effort to win.

Master O’Reilly (O’Reilly-Withot Remorse) on the other hand, is raced in Australia but was bred in New Zealand by Waikato Stud’s superstar stallion O’Reilly – he himself a brilliant galloper in his day when raced in Australia. And Master O’Reilly, who is now very much a leading Melbourne Cup (Aus-I) contender, was ridden by Vlad Duric, who just cannot believe what is happening to his career. A year ago, he was a battling jockey of 29 years of age. He had three kids and was riding in country race meetings, barely getting by. Yet his luck has changed and his dedication to his cause is probably testimony to that. He rode Master O’Reilly at the postage stamp weight of 50.5kg – some 4 kilos less than he normally weighs.

"My body is really hurting now, but the adrenalin is keeping me going," Duric said afterward. "It is a dream as you are growing up to win races like the Caulfield Cup."

For the last month the articulate and dedicated hoop has lived on brown rice, vegetable juices and water only to ensure he would be able to ride Master O'Reilly at 50.5kg in the Caulfield Cup.

“I also decided I should start running, so I run for 40 minutes every evening before I go to bed on the treadmill. So this victory is all worth the sacrifice.”

And Duric rode him a treat, too.

He had the long-striding and talented galloper back in sixth throughout, parked away behind the speed and with cover. He angled him out when the field started quickening near the bend, and he had clear space once they straightened. But he still had work to do because his talented stablemate Douro Valley (Encosta de Lago-Opaque), headily ridden by James Winks, had taken off before the turn and pinched a break on the field. Douro Valley, the last horse to have beaten Maldivian, was full of running down the straight and getting away from the chasing herd – all but Master O’Reilly -- who simply wanted to catch him.

That he did right near the line, so although the Cup was robbed of seeing Maldivian reach his place as premier stayer in Australia, it was competitive and exciting nonetheless.

Purple Moon (Galileo-Vanishing Prairie), here primarily for the Melbourne Cup in November from Luca Cumani’s yard, gave notice he would be a serious contender in that event, winding up a fast-finishing fifth after losing his way coming to the bend. He spotted Douro Valley about 14 lengths upon straightening yet was only six behind the winner at the end.

The device that caused the huge gash in Maldivian was positioned between stalls one and two in an attempt to bring viewers closer to the action. As Maldivian thrashed around, the cut grew to be about six inches long. Racing Victoria vet Dr. Paul O'Callaghan said the wound had been stitched and would not necessarily prevent Maldivian from continuing his preparation during the Spring Carnival.

Master O’Reilly has now earned AUS$1,880,150 from his 19 starts, which resulted in eight wins.

Strangely enough, on this day 12 months ago, Duric won a $12,000 low-key 1 1/16 mile handicap at a bush track in Victoria named Sale on a horse called Master O’Reilly.

It has been quite the fairy tale … and quite the year of racing in Australia.

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