Danny O’Brien talks Cup Week

28 October 2022 Written by VRC

Spring racing at Flemington has begun, and the countdown is on to Cup Week. The smooth running of an event of this scale takes many hands, heads, hours and a lot of dedication and passion. We meet some of the people behind the scenes.

Danny O’Brien trained 2019 Lexus Melbourne Cup winner, Vow And Declare, and has stables at Flemington Racecourse and a training facility at Barwon Heads. A stalwart of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, he says the Cup Week can often feel like a month as the workload and pressure ramp up.

Vow And Declare’s courageous win in the Lexus Melbourne Cup was a joyful moment for the all-Aussie Team.

“Melbourne has a different feeling during Cup Week. Usually there are people from interstate and overseas, everyone is dressed up, the roses are out and the marquees are set. And everyone at Flemington is gearing their horses up to win a race. It’s like a Grand Final. Every individual race has that bit of added pressure, but the flip side of that is that there’s added elation if you win during Cup Week.

It can take the better part of a year to prepare for the Carnival. A lot of planning and time goes into those bigger races and you need a lot of things to go right – right up to the day and the race. We’d prepared Vow And Declare for a couple of years for the Melbourne Cup but he still needed a very good ride from Craig Williams to win.

Any number of things can go wrong when you’re training 140 horses. Every day we deal with variables like injuries, illnesses or changes in their training program. It’s a moving feast to train racehorses. But generally, the build-up to the Carnival begins in August for the horses we’ve identified. They start racing then in preparation and we have a team of about 75 people who get them ready – trainers, trackwork riders, strappers, general managers, office staff and jockeys.

During the Spring Carnival, the week feels like a month and by the time I get to the last race on the last day I’ve lived a marathon. It’s exhausting because as well as the races, I still get up every morning to train our other horses who might run the following week. By the end of the week, you are pretty much fried and need a lie down.

If you’ve had a big week and won some of the bigger races, the afterglow of that is good. If you haven’t then you are back to the grindstone trying to make it happen next year.”