There have been plenty of “wild” days in the life of Brett Cavanough but the 57-year-old is now in the middle of a purple patch that doesn’t look like ending anytime soon.
The Scone trainer won the $1.3 million Kosciuszko last year with It’s Me, who remains undefeated but is spelling at the moment as she recovers from a tendon injury suffered in winning the big race.
She’s on track to defend her title in the spring although some form experts think she could find her way into the Everest field if she comes back unaffected by the injury.
A fortnight ago Cavanough saddled up Pinnacle Prince to victory in a Highway Handicap at Randwick.
He is also spelling and will get his chance to win the Kosciuszko late in the year.
But there’s another top prospect on the scene.
Cavanough is set to unleash Water Dove at Randwick on Saturday and she is also undefeated.
But before these three highly promising types came into his stable he did things completely different to the way young men do now.
Cavanough was riding track work for grandfather Frank when he was just 12.
And the young guys and girls coming through now would be shocked at how things were done.
“It was pretty wild. We used to ride work in jeans and joggers,” Cavanough said.
“We never wore vests or helmets back in those days and it was just how we were brought up.
“There was no breast plates to hang on to. You just had to ride work and figure it out as you went along.”
So how did rider survive back then?
Cavanough and his peers didn’t really think much of it at the time.
“They were very good horseman but they didn’t have what they have now. You either trotted and cantered or went full pace, it was the Wild West show,” Cavanough said.
“There were injuries but we didn’t know about as many back then because there was no social media and communications like that.
“If someone got hurt in Brisbane we didn’t know about it. You only heard what happened in the next town.”
Cavanough left school at 15 to work for Queensland trainers Jim McCormack and Barry Baldwin, who would go on to win the 2006 Stradbroke with La Montagna.
We asked why he left school so early.
“I think it was the headmaster’s choice,” Cavanough said.
“I was probably paying more attention to things outside of school so I was better off in the workplace.”
It’s easy to know why Cavanough’s a typical tough nut country bloke. If he wasn’t he wouldn’t have got to where he is now.
Most trainers in country regions from his era would say the same and McCormack and Baldwin helped shape the teenager.
“Back then, those guys would discipline you very firmly and they ruled with an iron fist,” Cavanough said.
“You got a slap behind the ear if you did something wrong but these days you can’t even raise your voice.”
McCormack was unfortunately killed in a car accident and Cavanough has since used his silks in his honour – black with pink horse shoes.
“There’s still stuff that I do that they did. They were very polished horseman,” Cavanough said.
It hasn’t been only horse racing since he left school however and from 18 to 24 he had a number of odd jobs including working on an oil rig for the money.
He got lost for a few years before finding his other talent – shearing sheep.
“I was a bit of a gypsy. I went around and tried a few different jobs,” Cavanough said.
“It came to me very quick. It was a gift I had. It was easy on my body and mind and I did the big numbers.”
Cavanough was so good at shearing he broke a world record for most sheep sheared in eight hours – 427 – which lasted for five years.
“That was the last day I ever wanted to shear another sheep. That was the pinnacle and I achieved what I wanted to there,” he said.
“It gave me mental toughness. I was shearing sheep in 50 degree heat for 40 and 50 days straight.
“When things were tough after that I managed it better.”
After being the first Australian to hold an official World Shearing Record, Cavanough was about to go in another direction that didn’t include racing but that was smacked down quickly.
“I saved up a bit of cash and talked to David Power who was a senior figure I looked up to and I told him I was thinking about buying a pub,” Cavanough said.
“He said ‘don’t worry about getting a pub, go and do something you’re good at and that’s horses’.
“I had a background with Neville Begg and TJ (Smith) so the transition back to training racehorses was quick.
“A lot of people said I went to bed a shearer and woke up a racehorse trainer but it was a lot different to that. Horses have always been in my veins.”
In 1998 Cavanough got back into racing and the honours have been many since including winning 11 Southern District Racing Association trainers’ titles and the leading country trainer in NSW on a few occasions.
In that time Cavanough also broke in more than 800 horses for Peter Moody including Black Caviar.
The closing of Moody’s stables in 2016 was the reason Cavanough moved to Scone to set up a new operation.
And a lot has changed over the years – for the better.
“In 1998, unless you had a big owner behind you it was more of a hobby/weekend sport, it wasn’t full time for country trainers,” Cavanough said.
“If you wanted to be full time there was only just a living in it. There were a lot of guys battling and we weren’t racing as much.
And through Racing NSW innovations, training outside the city regions can be lucrative.
Yearly prizemoney available for country-only horses and trainers tops $6 million when the weekly Highway Handicaps are added up along with the Country Championships heats and final and the Kosciuszko.
“Training in the country is a big business now,” Cavanough said.
“On our license it says ‘country trainer’ but we get called ‘bush’ trainer a lot. I’ll give them bush trainer if I get them in the corner of pub.”
And despite his great young team taking all before them at the moment, there’s been times he wishes all these great country races were made a lot longer ago.
“When I was in Albury I had about eight horses that had won four or five straight. Albury was good to me,” Cavanough said.
“I’d like to know just how much money can be one over the course of a year for country trainers.
“Some country trainers now have very big businesses and they’ve done well out of the sport. It’s still hard though. We can clock up a few thousand kilometres in a week just going to the races.
“I’ve had a good look at the landscape of racing in Australia and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
“The prizemoney is endless. Nowhere else in the world races for $22,000 in some of the places we go. Our country racing is the strongest in the world.”
Water Dove is a good chance of staying undefeated in tomorrow’s Highway Handicap (1100m) if she can beat the favourite Art Cadeau.
She won her first two runs and Cavanough says if she can win again he’ll set her for the Country Championships which is coming up soon.
Cavanough has enjoyed his wild ride in the industry and there’s only one regret.
“The only thing that pisses me off is that I’m getting old,” he said.
“I’d like to rewind and go back 20 years.
“Not that I made any mistakes, but it’s good to be training.”