The Spring is officially in the air with the group one Makybe Stakes meeting at Flemington on Saturday.
The 2018 Melbourne Cup was taken out by Cross Counter, putting in a superb run down the outside to beat Marmelo and A Prince Of Arran, for English horses and trainers to trifecta the great race.
Winner: Cross Counter, Charlie Appleby and Godolphin
Trainer Charlier Appleby is special. For him to come to Australia with just one Melbourne Cup horse, which suffered a setback or two, draw barrier 19 and then see Kerrin McEvoy bolt away in just the horse’s eighth race… it’s something hugely special.
And, of course, the win for Godolphin is huge. It’s a culmination of decades of trying for Sheikh Mohammed, who loves racing, loves seeing his gallopers travel the world taking on big races, and no doubt would be enjoying this.
Yes, it’s not a win for the battlers by any means, but even the grimmest of racing goers who prefer local horses and local trainers might be able to accept that no one has tried harder or longer than Godolphin.
Winner: International horses without a prior run in Australia
Once a hoodoo, the streak of international horses without a run prior to the race not winning is now the reverse. It’s a streak of winners! Cross Counter’s win mirrors Rekindling win for so many reasons, both good lightweight hopes that stepped into a 3200m staying event without an issue first-up.
European horses stay in work, and it’s worth remembering this. It’s not something well known. Australian horses have a few runs, get tired, and are spelled out in a paddock to have a proper rest. In Europe, we see horses with most stables stay in work nearly all year round. They’re always fit and so they don’t run week after week, but just put together a set of runs across a year as they see fit.
That allows these horses to build their fitness towards a Melbourne Cup all year round, and just for now at least, it’s working. Horses like Cross Counter, Marmelo, and A Prince Of Arran had long preparations that put the miles into the legs.
So, what now for punters? Is two on the trot enough for a complete rethink? Or does this rule give us the likes of A Prince Of Arran that burst into calculations by winning on Saturday, then turning around into the Melbourne Cup?
Ultimately, Marmelo did the reverse last year and was far better this year. No run this year suited him. It’s down to the horse, the trainer, the knowledge they have.
Given that European trainers have now all heard about this ‘rule’, and have seen it broken, it would seem likely that they’ll prepare their horses as they see fit, and we have to trust them for it.
Winner: The Flemington track
46mm of rain hit the Flemington racecourse after 7:30am, yet the Melbourne Cup at 3pm local time was largely unaffected. The surface drains superbly, and the rain that turned early races into a mud fling just wasn’t there. It’s a brilliant racetrack.
Winner: Jockey Kerrin McEvoy
A beautiful ride to get Cross Counter to win by McEvoy, who takes his third Cup. He’s also won two Everests to be sitting on something like $30m of prizemoney for owners, trainers, and five per cent himself, of course, in the last 13 months. Not bad!
It nearly went so wrong too, Cross Counter only narrowly avoided poor The Cliffsofmoher and was lucky to be able to continue around the first bend. But McEvoy held his nerve, and away he went.
“We were lucky, on the first turn, with that horse breaking down. We were lucky to get through. I was back a bit further than I wanted.
“I knew that I was full of running – I was on the back of Yucatan. He seemed to be empty, Yucatan. At the 400 (metres) I said that I had to go my own way, and I was full of running. At the furlong I thought ‘mate, is this happening again?’.”
English horses had never won the Melbourne Cup. They’d been despairingly close over the years and now, it’s a trifecta. Marmelo went far, far better than last year at the hands of Hughie Morrison, who learned his lesson about how good Marmelo was fresh in 2017. And young Charlie Fellowes grabbing third with A Prince Of Arran at his first ever attempt… it’s remarkable stuff.
If you count this as a loss for the Australians and Kiwis and so on, that’s fair enough too. I just don’t know if our trainers get enough stayers, enough staying races, and suitable tracks, to really get our horses to 3200m.
Chris Waller did have Finche in fourth, so perhaps a test will be to see if he can improve that horse off his European training before coming over here. It’s a bigger discussion for another time perhaps, but these top three were brilliant.
Another Cup, another where it would seem the history of the race and traditional requirements are in complete flux. Cross Counter being such a young horse, with no experience in a huge field, no experience at 3200m, and with a wide barrier… the list goes on.
We had previously seen the dominance of slightly older horses, with six-year-olds having much of the luck until 2017 and 2018. Now it’s young, lightly-raced horses with no weight doing the work.
Maybe that’s what happens when the doors are fully opened, and horses from everywhere and everyone come down – it gives chances to those who earn it without needing to worry about what’s been the tried and true methods.
Poor The Cliffsofmoher
Nothing course be worse for racing fans than to see a horse break down in the Melbourne Cup, and certainly not right in front of the crowd. He suffered a fractured right shoulder and vets weren’t able to save him. It’s just very sad.
The rain that belted the track really played havoc with form. The track, as already mentioned, held up well but it was a genuine soft surface. That really hurt those that were looking for a firm track and I thought my top tip in Muntahaa just didn’t handle it well. He was being shoved along throughout, a classic sign of just not being comfortable. Japanese horse Chestnut Coat was only ever a chance on a firm track.
Probably the biggest loser was Magic Circle. He was a massive tip to do well on a soft track and he just paddled, finishing around 16th.
But all in all, the rain that fell mixed things up massively. Anyone who’d decided to bet assuming a firm track in the days leading up – or even Monday, given that the Flemington track was watered overnight to ensure it wouldn’t be too firm(!) – would’ve been a little surprised to hear the track rated a heavy surface by start time.
I don’t think this means people should, as a rule, be waiting until the last minute by any means, but Melbourne weather is Melbourne weather!