Every year, as the Melbourne Cup draws closer, I have two very mixed emotions. The first is an immense excitement and buildup, as the great race approaches. The second is dread, because Melbourne Cup week is, for me, the end of my Spring Carnival. Yes, there is still the Sandown Classic, or now Zipping Classic as it is now known, but having spent 10 of the past 12 weekends on the road and therefore away from home (which means frequently living my children behind), it is never practical for me to extend my stay to include this last meeting. And of course the end of the Spring always fills me with sadness. This is because I love being in Melbourne so much, which is filled with the people who mean so much to me and my kids and all the wonderful ponies I grow so fond of. And the end of Spring means that the weeks between the start of November and the beginning of February stretch endlessly in front of me.
There has been much conjecture about the growing 'internationalisation' of Australia's greatest race, the Melbourne Cup. This years' running saw a record number of horses from overseas, either imported by local trainers such as Mark Kavanagh (December Draw), Lee and Anthony Freedman (Lucas Cranach) and Mr JB Cummings (Illo), or travelling internationals such as Godolphin, the Cumani stable, etc.
In 2010, which was the 150th running of the Melbourne Cup, the French targeted the race for the very first time, with the striking near black stallion Americain. He won the Geelong Cup in fine style, but Bart's champion So You Think, on the back of his undefeated Spring, was expected to win the Cup and give Bart his Baker's Dozen of 13 Cup wins. However, after racing keenly and perhaps not quite getting the trip, So You Think went down in an upset, with Americain running past him in a powerful finish, to give the his French trainer Alain de Royer Dupre his first victory on Australian Soil. Americain was technically Australian owned by the time he won the Cup, having been purchased by Gerry Ryan and Kevin and Colleen Bamford, but prior to arriving in Australia and winning the Geelong Cup, the stallion had done all his racing in the Northern Hemisphere. Nearly all of his wins came in France, which were on either side of an unsuccessful racing stint in America, where the horse was actually foaled.
Roll forwards 12 months, to 2011, and the French were back in force. Americain returned to his Southern Hemisphere base at Werribee, and with him came another French horse, a smaller brown horse called Dunaden. Whilst Americain is regally bred, being a son of successful Americain stallion Dynaformer (himself a son of the great Roberto), and having other luminaries of the turf such as Arazi, Blushing Groom, Green Dancer, Hail to Reason and His Majesty in his pedigree, Dunaden was unfashionably bred. However his form during 2011 had been excellent, having twice finishing in front of Americain in races in France. He followed the Americain path though and like that horse last year, he started in the Geelong Cup and won it most impressively, with the jockey of the Spring, Craig Williams on board. Dunaden received a 0.5kg penalty following this victory, leaving him with saddlecloth number 3 in the great race. His jockey Craig Williams, who had won the Caulfield Cup on Southern Speed, and then the Cox Plate on Pinker Pinker, as then suspended for a ride at Bendigo, and despite 2 appeals, he failed in his bid to ride Dunaden in the Cup in an attempt to become the first jockey to ever win the 3 spring 'majors' of the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup in one season.
Of the 23 horses to face the starter, following the scratching on race morning of the Lloyd Williams owned Mourayan, 11 horses were from overseas. A further 7 horses had been bred in the northern hemisphere and bought by local connections as tried horses with a view to winning the Melbourne or Caulfield Cup. Dunaden was ridden by French jockey Christophe Lemaire, who's name doesn't even appear in the racebook because of the last minute appeal by Craig Williams. Lemaire received a late call up to travel to Australia in the event that Williams was unsuccessful and then to add to the drama he was then caught up in the fiasco that was Alan Joyce's grounding of the entire Qantas Fleet over Derby Weekend, meaning he arrived in Australia less than 24 hours before riding in the great race.
Lemaire and Dunaden prevailed in a driving finish from another international horse, Red Cadeaux, who was trained by England's Ed Dunlop, of Snow Fairy fame. It was the closest finish in Cup history, with it taking minutes for the judge to determine whether Dunaden or Red Cadeaux had won, and it was about a cm separating the two horses at the finish, with the smaller, but tenancious Dunaden just managing to hold out the much larger chestnut horse on his outside.
|French horse Dunaden (inside, yellow with blue stars) and his stand in jockey Christophe Lemaire prevail in the closest finish in Melbourne Cup history, defeating Michael Rodd on Red Cadeaux (outside, blue sleeves, red diamonds).|
|Jockey Christophe Lemaire and trainer Mikel Delzangles with the Melbourne Cup after Dunaden's victory|