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Meagher stands on shoulders of giants

Kranji trainer in awe of Irish legend O’Brien, keeps learning for Lim’s Kosciuszko’s benefit

Singapore raider Lim’s Kosciuszko is not the only one enjoying the second Hong Kong experience better – his trainer Daniel Meagher is, too.

Since his arrival on Dec 1 to saddle his champion galloper in the HK$32 million (S$5.5 million) Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile (1,600m) on Dec 10, the 40-year-old Australian has relished every minute of the uniquely international flavour such events bring.

In December 2022, at Lim’s Kosciuszko’s first crack at the Hong Kong riches in the Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint (1,200m), Meagher learned a lot, even in defeat (the horse finished last).

But, the movements – both equine and human – were a lot more contained with the Covid-19 restrictions in place then.

One year on, the doors have been flung wide open, mandatory masks have dropped, protocols are a lot less strict.

But, what Meagher is particularly appreciative of is the ability to freely mingle with other participants from all over the world, unchecked – like what it used to be before Covid-19.

Networking with new names in the global but close-knit world of racing can only benefit a young trainer like Meagher – and the name of one of his encounters does not get any bigger: Aidan O’Brien.

Meagher has no doubt the legendary Irish multiple-champion trainer, who races Cairo in the Mile, will be a tough foe on Dec 10 but off the track, he said he was like your every day man – open, friendly and helpful.

“He’s just a really nice guy. I met him last year but never talked like today,” said Meagher, who was still awestruck, nonetheless.

“I said to him if it’s okay, I’ll be asking him a lot of questions in the next few days. He said ‘go ahead, my pleasure, no problem’.

“He has a big opinion of Cairo, saying he was a young horse on the way up. I also asked him about a couple of his other horses there, and he explained to me why they’re here and where they’re going after this.

“He was very accommodating and very happy to have a talk, he also asked a few questions about Singapore.”

O’Brien will be busy across all the four drawcards of the Hong Kong International Races. Besides Cairo, the Ballydoyle team is also represented by Luxembourg in the Cup, Aesop’s Fables in the Sprint and Warm Heart in the Vase.

Meagher said the close proximity within the stabling cluster afforded him the eye-popping privilege of seeing world-class athletes every morning.

But it also helped him size up the opposition, even if he is aware of his minnow status against such giants.

“We’re all in the same place, I get to see the other horses in the flesh, the Japanese horses (Danon The Kid, Serifos, Soul Rush, Namur and Divina), the locals, Golden Sixty, of course,” said Meagher.

“To be honest, I respect all of them as we’re only outsiders. But it’s bloody amazing, to get to see everything better with no Covid-19 restrictions; it’s a unique experience.

“We still have three days left before the big race. We’ll just have to be careful everything goes to plan.”

Day 4 of trackwork at Sha Tin (Lim’s Kosciuszko had only one day off on Dec 2) was another tick on that box, even if there was still a little niggle.

“He did 1½ laps and quickened up in the straight. It was nothing major, he’ll do one lap of strong canter tomorrow,” he said.

“He still lacks a bit of focus, though. He waits for other horses, probably because it’s such a big track.

“We put him on the rails today, he was a lot better. He’s getting better every day, though, Jimmy (Wong Chin Chuen) was happy with him.”

The 17-time winner and seven-time Group 1 winner was also a touch restless in his box in the first couple of days, but Meagher has fixed that with a nifty hack.

“He was a bit active at first. I did my research and decided to get a mirror installed in his box,” he said.

“It acts like a buddy, which he had with Paperback Trooper last year. It worked because he licked his bin clean shortly after.”