Kavanagh's emotions run riot after Cox Plate win

The first thing Mark Kavanagh did as the winner hit the line in the Cox Plate was to land a solid left hook to his wife’s chin.

He didn’t know he’d done it and she didn’t care.

Kavanagh had won Australia’s best horse race with an old rogue who he’d tricked, through horsemanship and a hunch, into producing his best form.

Maldivian wins Race 5, the Yalumba Caulfield Stakes at Caulfield on Saturday 13 October 2007, ridden by Michael Rodd, trained by Mark Kavanagh.  Photo by Bronwen Healy

Maldivian capped the greatest day of Kavanagh’s professional life with a Cox Plate triumph that was as much down to the trainer as to the horse.

A head case in the barriers and a bit of a deceiver once he consents to leave them, Maldivian has played the role of victim and villain in the past 12 months.

A year ago on Caulfield Cup day he started favourite under a mountain of money.

But he went silly in the gates, gashing his head on a piece of television equipment.

With blood streaming down his neck he made a lonely trip back to the saddling enclosure to a despondent trainer.

In the leadup to yesterday’s Cox Plate, Maldivian had run indifferently. But his trainer stuck fast.

“There were a couple of problems there,” Kavanagh said.

“After a while I knew what they were, I just had to time it right.”

Having cured Maldivian of his habit of blocking his throat with his tongue, Kavanagh went to work on his horse’s mind.

On Tuesday he went for the time-honoured tactic of putting the horse over a few jumps.

Then he added blinkers to Maldivian’s raceday gear.

“He’s by Zabeel,” he said.

“They’re an amazing breed of horses, but they all benefit from a bit of schooling and from blinkers.

“It’s not a mystery, everyone knows about it.

“But I just had to get the timing right.”

He achieved that aim with immaculate precision.

With the blinkers on and with his tongue tied down to stop it from blocking his windpipe, Maldivian bowled to the front from the gates.

Theseo annoyed him for 200 metres or so, but when Nash Rawiller got him under control the race was in Maldivian’s keeping.

His jockey Michael Rodd slowed the field in the middle of the race and wound his horse up 500m from home.

At that point, Kavanagh’s coup had succeeded.

Maldivian kept going to beat Zipping by length with Samantha Miss a short neck away.

The win was Kavanagh’s biggest by a long way.

But it was his best day at the races by a lot further.

A couple of races earlier he produced Whobegotyou to win the AAMI Vase with possibly the best performance of the day.

He is now the odds-on Victoria Derby favourite.

Kavanagh then won the race after the Cox Plate with Sea Battle and a few minutes later, the former jumps jockey had landed another winner in Adelaide.

And his wife forgave him.
By Mike Hedge