Author: John Berry
This Yyear’s Melbourne Cup, now sponsored by Lexus following Emirates’ long running and hugely successful association with the race, was once again one of the highlights of the racing year. We keep being told that there are no fairy stories in the Melbourne Cup any more, that the internationalisation of the race has taken away a bit of the magic. It is, of course, possible to stick to this theory, but to do so would be to deny oneself the thrill of being immersed in the spirit of what is one of the world’s greatest sporting occasions. A tweet by respected Australian bloodstock identity John Hutchinson says it all.
Hutchinson, the owner and director of Scone Bloodstock Services Pty Ltd who tweets as @sconebloodstock, is a seasoned professional who is not taken in by gimmicks, a realist who appreciates that all that glitters is not gold. This was his observation the day before the Cup: “Just saying, for me at least, but the much loved history, modern day media coverage & lifelong anticipation of the Melbourne Cup leaves the rest in the shadows of the mountain.” Those words, for me at least!, sum up the magic of the Cup; its proud and fabled history, of course, makes it the special event that it is, but its position in the modern world, with the full blown media attention which that brings, consolidates rather than detracts from its status. The internationalisation of the Cup has, of course, changed its make-up hugely.
But there is still room for plenty of the old magic. Many of the runners in this year’s race brought with them the type of traditional ‘back stories’ which have always enriched the Cup’s legend, in just the same way that the history of the Grand National in England is littered with heart warming tales of unlikely triumph. It seems to get harder and harder each year to get a horse into the final field of 24, but even so this time around we still found plenty in the field with the type of unlikely background which brightens the race’s profile, headed by the 10yo gelding Who Shot Thebarman, contesting the race for the fourth time. Bred on the South Island of New Zealand and owned by the O’Leary family from Whanganui, Who Shot Thebarman first hit the headlines more than four and a half years ago when taking the Avondale Gold Cup and the Auckland Cup.
Since then he has won a Bart Cummings Handicap at Flemington (and that was still more than four years ago), a Zipping Classic at Sandown (Australia), a Moonee Valley Gold Cup and this year’s Sydney Cup. He provided his own fairy story just by turning up!
And how about Magic Circle, who was bought at Tattersalls Horses in Training Sale last year for 70,000gns as a seemingly sexposed 5yo gelding, fresh off the back of a 13th place in the Cesarewitch? He was given the mission of trying to win another Chester Cup for his splendidly enthusiastic purchaser, Dr Marwan Koukash. He achieved that task on his first run for his new connections, then followed up in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown (UK). The Melbourne Cup was his third assignment for Koukash, who was so enthusiastic about the sortie that he promised, or threatened, to remove all his clothes bar a thong in the winner’s enclosure were Magic Circle to salute the judge. Dr Koukash’s enthusiasm, incidentally, led to one of the greatest bons mots in Melbourne Cup history. While modelling his thong (with clothes underneath it) at a press conference, Koukash was asked whether he was concerned about what his wife might think of him stripping off in public.
He revealed that he had no worries at all about what her reaction might be, on the basis that ‘finding a new wife is much easier than winning a Melbourne Cup’! With human and equine characters such as these among the cast, there was no chance that this year’s Cup was going to be the first in history not to provide a great story. And we could throw in a few genuine ‘old school’ Aussie and Kiwi contenders such as Queensland Oaks heroine Youngstar and Geelong Cup winner Runaway (both of whom are owned by large syndicates, each containing a swag of proper racing characters) and Avondale Cup winner Zacada. The last named is part-owned by Sir Patrick and Lady Justine Hogan who have played a massive part in the Cup’s history in recent decades thanks to the Cambridge Stud-based stallions Sir Tristram and his son Zabeel, who was aged 25 when he covered Lacada in the spring of 2011, thus conceiving Zacada.
Could Zacada write yet another Cambridge Stud chapter into the Cup’s rich history? The stage was thus set for a thrilling race replete with good stories. And that is exactly what we enjoyed. The thrilling victory of the home bred 3yo Cross Counter sets the seal on a wonderful year for Godolphin. Sheikh Mohammed thus finally landed the prize which he had been seeking for 30 years, having first had a runner in the race in 1988 when Brent Thomson wore the maroon and white silks on board Shergar’s Irish-bred son Authaal. Charlie Appleby thus became only the second trainer in history (after Dermot Weld) to have trained the winners of both of what many (the writer of this column included) regard as the two biggest races in the world, the Derby and the Melbourne Cup. And he trained them both in the same year, with a Breeders’ Cup victory thrown in for good measure.
And Kerrin McEvoy, who has played such a big part in the Godolphin success story throughout the current century, took the chance, when riding the winner of the race for the third time, to declare that this victory was particularly special because ‘it allowed me to repay a little bit of the faith which Sheikh Mohammed has shown in me over the years’. These happy scenes, with trainer and jockey both showing the modesty and courtesy which are their hallmarks, provided a fitting and sporting postscript to a thrilling race. This was a victory which rewarded Sheikh Mohammed’s long lasting support of one of the world’s greatest races. This was a job well done.