A G1 breakthrough for Eustace

6 min read

by Bren O'Brien

As Chris Waller notched Group 1 successes numbers 99, 100 and 101 amid the fanfare of Winx's (Street Cry {Ire}) farewell at Randwick on Saturday, another milestone went almost unnoticed.

Even trainer Ciaron Maher, who notched his 11th Group 1 with Kenedna's (Not A Single Doubt) victory in the Group 1 Coolmore Legacy, took until a second post-race interview to twig as to the significance of the moment

"I forgot to mention it before, it’s great to get Dave Eustace on the board for his Group 1 maiden," Maher said post-race.

Milestone it may be, but Eustace is hardly one to chase the spotlight. Reflecting on his breakthrough win on RSN on Sunday, he was keen to deflect the attention elsewhere.

David Eustace

"It's just a culmination of a whole lot of hard work from everyone and we couldn't be happier," he said.

"We are very grateful to get Kenedna and other horses of that calibre in the stable and there is a bit of expectation and pressure to get results at the higher level."

"We haven’t had one (a Group 1 winner) at a stable for a little while. It's just a great thrill, it was a very exciting race, she got a brilliant ride from Johnny Allen, you had to give to it him for the ride. It was a great day."

"It's just a culmination of a whole lot of hard work from everyone and we couldn't be happier." - David Eustace

It had been a small drought for the Maher stable, who have not had a Group 1 winner since Ruthven's (Domesday) success in the 2017 Queensland Derby, with the top-flight successes of Merchant Navy (Fastnet Rock) and Aloisia (NZ) (Azamour {Ire}) in late 2017 coming under Aaron Purcell's name.

Much of the 12 months since Ciaron Maher returned from suspension has been spent re-building the foundations of a stable that can dominate Australian racing for the next generation.

The ambitions Maher has cultivated include partnerships with some of racing's biggest players, such as Aquis Farm, Phoenix Thoroughbreds, Yulong and Coolmore, while Eustace joined him as a training partner at the start of the 2018/19 season.

Then came the establishment of a permanent Sydney-base, headed up by top horsewoman Annabel Neasham, a significant step in Maher and Eustace's ambitions to have a national footprint.

There has also been the recent addition of Will Bourne to the bloodstock team, formerly a member of the Darley nominations team.

But perhaps the most significant move was one that was days rather than months in the planning.

Sensing an opportunity

As the Darren Weir scandal engulfed the Victorian industry in late January, Maher and Eustace moved quickly to seize the opportunity to purchase the 150-box Forest Lodge stables alongside Ballarat racecourse from the disqualified trainer.

It enabled them to fill a major part of the vacuum left by Weir's sudden departure, but also grow the footprint of the stable significantly.

To handle that level of upscale, while focussing on a busy autumn period of racing, has been no mean feat, according to Eustace.

"It’s been very enjoyable for us, I wouldn’t say we are there yet, but the results are improving all the time." - David Eustace

"Probably the most challenging thing has been taking over a new training facility and learning how to train there," Eustace said.

"We were lucky enough to take over some good horses in excellent condition and you take them over in a place where you know where to train, then it’s easier. But landing in Ballarat has probably been the most challenging thing. It’s been very enjoyable for us, I wouldn’t say we are there yet, but the results are improving all the time."

"The staff that have remained from Darren's have been a great help and given us good insight, I think it has gone as well as you could expect and it's only going to improve."

One of the horses that Maher and Eustace inherited from Weir was Kenedna, a talented middle-distance mare who was being aimed towards the G1 Doomben Cup during the Brisbane carnival.

"When we got her, Darren said he thought she'd win the Doomben Cup, so it’s always been the target to get her there. She was already proven at a good level and we were hopeful she could win a race along the way," he said.

But her day in the spotlight came earlier than expected as she produced a brilliant finish to win the G1 Legacy in a blanket finish.

"I did say to Ciaron on Tuesday morning after she worked, I thought she was absolutely bang on. We were all quite hopeful, it was a tough race on paper but we thought it would pan out pretty well in that it was the ideal draw for her running style and she would just need a bit of luck. She got it," Eustace said.

"I thought she was absolutely bang on." - David Eustace

One of the other inheritances from Weir has been Allen, who had just ridden two winners for Maher and Eustace before Saturday's brilliant ride for his fifth Group 1 win.

"She responds to urging and while she wasn't cantering on the turn, she looked like she'd keep finding if that gap came. There was only half a gap there really and he took it. I wouldn’t say we were confident in the run, but once she and Johnny found the gap, I always thought she was going to find the line well," Eustace said.

Ciaron Maher with jockey John Allen after their G1 victory

Kedenda's win was especially significant also for an ownership group headed by Mick Johnston, whose grandmother Edna, after whom the horse was partially named, recently passed away.

Johnston had been a long-term client of Weir and is now firmly ensconced with the Maher/Eustace camp.

Kenenda wasn't the only former Weir runner to win a Group 1 race on Saturday, with Australian Oaks winner Verry Elleegant (NZ) (Zed), having joined Waller's stables only after Weir's disqualification in early February.

That was Waller's second Group 1 win with Verry Elleegant, while he also tasted Group 1 success with another ex-Weir galloper in Nature Strip (Nicconi) last month.