Annabel Neasham takes on former boss Ciaron Maher in Doomben Cup

She says he is an adrenaline junkie. He says she can be a stress-head at times.

But there is little doubting the admiration that Ciaron Maher and his former trusted lieutenant Annabel Neasham have for each other.

It’s a case of master (Maher) versus apprentice (Neasham) at Doomben on Saturday as the two square off in the race for a Group 1 with Maher’s Cox Plate winner Sir Dragonet tangling with Neasham’s explosive last-start winner Zaaki in the Doomben Cup.

Maher is a well-known winter carnival success story – four of his 19 career Group 1s have come in the Sunshine State including the Stradbroke Handicap/Tatt’s Tiara double with Srikandi in 2015.

Neasham is still finding her way as a trainer although she has already kicked huge goals, notably when scoring her first Group 1 with Mo’unga in the Rosehill Guineas in March only eight months after taking out her trainers’ license.

The English-born trainer earned her stripes working with Maher and now she is taking on her old boss.

As Maher attempts to score his latest Sunshine State success on Saturday, Neasham has given an insight into what makes him tick.

Ciaron Maher with the Cox Plate after Sir Dragonet’s success last year. Picture: Racing Photos via Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

There is the laid-back, casual Maher that you often see interviewed but there’s also a highly-driven competitor who won’t settle for second-best.

“He likes fast horses and he likes adrenaline, that’s why he likes coming up to Queensland and that’s why he likes to race his horses all year throughout all the carnivals,” Neasham said.

“That is probably what motivates him and what makes him tick.

“He is laid-back behind the scenes, but you could always tell when it was a Group 1 day for him.

“He was always a pretty cool boss, I certainly used to do a bit of the worrying for him he used to tell me to relax.

“He’s obviously a bloody good horseman but one of the real keys to his success is he has surrounded himself with a good team and the fact he’s a likeable guy and people want to have horses with him.”

Maher agrees with Neasham’s assessment of him, saying it’s fair to say he’s an adrenaline junkie and loves the thrill of life’s big moments.

He feels the key to what has made him work, now in cohort with his co-trainer Dave Eustace, is empowering young staff members to take ownership of various jobs at the stables.

Maher insists he isn’t a micromanager, preferring to give his staff responsibility and take the sink-or-swim approach.

“It’s a way of engaging your staff, rather than them being factory workers, they are a part of a team and they are thinking about what they are doing,” Maher said.

“In Annabel’s case she is a bit of a stress-head and that’s why she is good, the old saying is if you are not nervous you are not trying.

“She has got the passion, she started off in bloodstock but wanted to become a trainer.

“She was always very hands on at the beach with the horses, riding trackwork, she did that for a while and she was very good and very engaging and people could see that.

“Her love was always the horses, she came to me and said she wanted to go into the training side.”

Zaaki is a dominant favourite for the Doomben Cup. Picture: credit: Greg Irvine, Magic Millions.Source:Supplied

A key step on the road to Neasham taking out her solo training license was Maher firstly sending her to Sydney to manage the team’s stable there.

It laid the foundation for Neasham’s bold step into the solo training ranks, supported by some heavy hitters such as Aquis.

“I opened up a Sydney stable and told Annabel it was an opportunity for her,” Maher said.

“I didn’t sugar-coat it at all for her, I just told her some home truths.

“I said the easiest part is the horses, the hardest part is the staff and dealing with personalities but she has worked that out as she has gone along.

“We grew our little (Sydney) team from five to 50 and it was then great to see her get a chance to train in her own right.

“Probably about one (trainer) in a decade gets the sort of opportunity that she has got.”

Neasham with jockey Tommy Berry after Mo’unga won the Rosehill Guineas. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

There has been some friendly ribbing between the duo during the week but it will be all business on game day at Doomben.

Neasham had the last laugh after the Rosehill Guineas when Mo’unga gave the blossoming trainer her maiden Group 1, while Maher’s horse Grandslam finished ninth.

The tables could easily be turned on Saturday, both trainers are bullish about the prospects of their Cup runners.

“We usually do have a bit of banter, but in my case it’s usually after the race because Annabel knows I’m performance-based,” Maher quipped.

Zaaki is the $2.50 favourite to give Neasham her second career Group 1 while Sir Dragonet is on the second line of betting at $4.60.

Originally published asNeasham out to deny former boss for Cup spoils

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