AS the field assembled behind the gates for Saturday’s Caulfield Cup, Ciaron Maher stood in the middle of the mounting, arms folded, arching back on his haunches.
The trainer of the Caulfield Cup favourite stood like a bloke waiting for a bus.
He stood much the same way for the entire race — a race in which he had the favourite but one that had to defy real or imagined obstacles.
By winning, beating gallant raider Scottish, Jameka became the first mare ever to win the VRC Oaks in one season and the Caulfield Cup the next.
Caulfield trained horses are supposed to win their own Cup; training track too tight, better for sprinters.
The stats said so, just one winner in about 30 years.
Maher shrugged that off, just as he shrugged off pre-race concerns Jameka was better at 2000m and other perceived challenges and can’t-do’s.
Jameka raced competitively at two, then at three in a couple of Oaks races at three, when she also took on the boys in the Rosehill Guineas and ATC Derby.
Fillies are usually plotted around the colts, but Maher, the casual yet confident ex dirt-biker, gravitates to tough roads.
He bought Jameka as a yearling because of the way she moved. He didn’t care about her bloodlines, just her vibe. He said he’d have paid more than the $130,000 grand that snapped her up, not because he had the money, but because he didn’t.
“I didn’t go past my budget because I didn’t have a budget,’’ he said with a smirk. “It was all on credit.’’
Maher has risen through the ranks, achieved things only achievable by those who don’t recognise limits.
He’s always aimed high, even with slow horses.
The one-time jumps jockey won a Grand Annual Steeplechase at Warrnambool in his late twenties.
He won the Emirates Stakes at Flemington also before he turned 30 with a $101 shot bred on some farm down near the Bool.
He left Warrnambool for Caulfield when everyone reckoned Maher and the ‘Bool were the perfect fit.
Maher didn’t want to be the best Warrnambool trainer, he wanted to be the best trainer.
His stable doubled in a few short days when Peter Moody bailed out a few months back. He inherited Moody’s boxes and some of his horses. Moody trained for a decade at Caulfield and won lots of races but never the Caulfield Cup.
Jameka zinged from the gates and appeared likely to lead as she roared past her trainer who seemed so laid-back he may have switched his gaze to something else, like a passing aeroplane.
The race shuffled about up front and Jameka over-raced at stages but Maher would later say that he was never concerned at any stage of this $3 million international contest because “she’s just a competitive horse.’’
Asked about his emotional rollercoaster during the second or third greatest race in Victoria — and his home track Cup — Maher said there had been no rollercoaster.
I was pretty calm, actually,’’ he said.
Maher is the quintessential laid-back dude. His principal owner, Warrnambool’s most renowned citizen Col McKenna, is his perfect partner. Nick Hall pits the picture too. Any more laid back and Hall would be in constant meditation.
The competitors, horse and human, in Saturday’s Caulfield Cup were the world’s elite. The horses came from as far as Europe, owned and trained by rich people with generations of pedigree and privilege.
Maher and McKenna came from Warrnambool. Or near it.
Maher grew up on an odds and sods farm, McKenna a small meatworks.
McKenna’s meat works was quickly becoming the biggest in the district, then global, as Maher was hooning around sand dunes on his motorbike, then later his horses.
McKenna, the major stakeholder in Jameka, is a huge figure in his hometown but he’s self-made — just like Maher, who is seriously big time these days. He gives stacks of dough to charities and the local hospital but hates people knowing it.
Maher’s staff is now a race-day entourage. His most curious employee is a woman called Su Ann Khaw, a former employee of Gai Waterhouse who appears to act as Maher’s image consultant.
McKenna has done so well he has his own private plane. Yet that’s not him. The real Col McKenna stood there in the mounting yard, shirt askew, declaring the only thing better was his kids and grandkids.
McKenna was looking about for a bloke called “Titch” who part-owned McKenna’s first winner, a horse called Advance, who won a maiden at Penshurst 40 years ago.
The almost-larrikin winners of Saturday’s Caulfield Cup are now roaring to the next impossible task.
Jameka, the mare who isn’t really bred to stay, the one trained at a track where stayers are supposed to struggle, moves on to the Melbourne Cup.
The bar now goes up. A new wave or raiders has lobbed at the quarantine centre, one from Japan.
Maher and McKenna are men of the moment but they love a challenge.
“Just wait and see what she does in 17 days time,’ McKenna promised and with a hint of a smirk, Maher agreed: “Maybe she’ll be better at Flemington.’’
Source: The Herald Sun