When David Eustace took a detour to Hong Kong on his way home from Royal Ascot, the rumours that he was set to depart Ciaron Maher Racing and forge his own training career went into overdrive.

So when it was announced on Thursday that the English-born horseman would finish up as Ciaron Maher’s training partner at the end of January and take on the big city lights of Sha Tin, it came as no surprise.

What the announcement does is raise two key questions, firstly about how Eustace will fare in the ultra-competitive Hong Kong environment, and secondly, what does Ciaron Maher Racing look like ‘AD’ - After Dave?

To answer the second question first, we need to look back at Maher’s operation when Eustace joined in partnership in 2018.

Eustace’s appointment came shortly after Maher had completed a six-month suspension over an ownership saga involving Group 1-winning mare Azkadellia and convicted conman Peter Foster.

That suspension proved a crossroads for Maher, then a 10-time Group 1 winner whose potential to be Australia’s top trainer was being curtailed by his inability to keep across the details of his burgeoning stable.

Eustace was respected but not well-known when he took the job. However, he played a key role in the transformation of Maher’s operation from one struggling to facilitate growth, to the best set-up training operation in the land.

In 2023, it resembles a corporation, with Maher as its figurehead and Eustace his trusted and steady partner, Yin to his Yang, as they coordinated a multi-state operation with acumen and precision.

On the track, the results have been simply spectacular. The first Group 1 win, with Kenedna in the 2019 Queen Of The Turf Stakes, came seven months into their new partnership.

Significantly, their first Group 1 winner together was formerly trained by Darren Weir. It was Weir’s sudden disqualification earlier that year that allowed Maher and Eustace to take over his Ballarat base and expand their footprint. They quickly assumed his mantle as Victoria’s biggest stable.

At the same time, they set up a base in Sydney, at Warwick Farm, to be headed up by Annabel Neasham, starting a national expansion.

And so the success has flowed, with more than 1600 winners in just over five years, including 30 Group 1s. Last season, they overtook Chris Waller as the most successful stable in the land, with 347 seasonal winners.

At the forefront of this success was not just good people, such as Eustace, and now departed staff like Annabel Neasham, Lucy Yeomans and Jack Bruce, but an approach led by data analytics and sports science, as well as a proper commercial team.

David Eustace to join Hong Kong training ranks in 2024
Australia’s most successful training partnership will come to an end with David Eustace confirming he will leave Ciaron Maher Racing and take up a training position in Hong Kong.

The Eustace era has set up CMR, as it is now known, for decades of success, and whether Maher enlists another partner or opts to go it alone, he is well placed to continue his pre-eminent position in Australia’s training ranks.

How far Maher has come in that time can be judged by how Eustace’s departure has been handled and communicated.

“In elite sport there is always fluidity at the top. The best and most successful operations recognise this and plan accordingly. We have a basic rule of thumb: everyone in a senior position must be replaceable - and that includes me,” Maher wrote to owners.

Anyone who knows Maher will know he would have never expressed it personally in that manner, but in the CMR era, well-chosen corporate speak is de rigueur at such times.

While Eustace has come a long way at just 32 years of age, what awaits him in Hong Kong is the most competitive training environment on the planet.

But Hong Kong has long been on Eustace’s mind, ever since he heard tales growing up in England of his uncle David Oughton’s success in the Asian racing capital.

His passion for training in Hong Kong was further fuelled when at 18 when he travelled with his father James’ best horse War Artist in 2009. He was back there again in 2014, travelling Farraaj for Roger Varian and then staying on for a couple of extra weeks with David Hall and Caspar Fownes.

While his career took him to Australia, with stints with Peter Moody, Peter and Paul Snowden and Maher, he always had a global perspective and a desire to make his mark in the cauldron of Hong Kong.

Eustace will arrive at the same age as Jamie Richards did in 2022, while he is a year younger than when David Hayes first landed in 1996, and significantly younger than both David Hall and John Size, when they relocated from Australia.

He will do well to study Richards’ experience since he started out in Hong Kong.

Richards arrived with 40 Group 1s under his belt and as New Zealand’s best trainer but since then he has had to be patient, building his stable gradually. The reason is quite simply, because of the competition.

His move coincided with a high-profile local trainer being promoted, Pierre Ng. It has since been a battle for the patronage of Hong Kong’s best owners and accordingly Hong Kong’s best horses. Ng leads the trainers’ premiership on 37, while Richards has nine winners.

Mark Newnham is the latest Australian to join the Hong Kong training ranks, and even with substantial connections in the city, he too has had to wait for ongoing success, with seven winners just over three months into his first season. Fellow rookie Cody Mo has six winners to date.

Not only will the fluctuating successes of those new additions to the training ranks provide Eustace with some context as he bids to forge his own path, but he will also be wary that they will be competing with him for the ear of the best owners.

Eustace’s work in selling himself to prospective owners in the restaurants and bars of Hong Kong will arguably be more important than anything he does inside the stable.

With only 20 trainers on the books and a near-obsessive fan base watching a trainer’s every move, there will be nowhere for Eustace to hide, especially if things don’t start well. Hong Kong has chewed up and spat out plenty of high-credentialled imports before.

But there would be no better way to prove he is his own man, and not just Maher’s offsider, than to weather that storm and gain a foothold among Hong Kong’s best.

Having achieved so much with and for Maher, that is now his challenge alone.