Reflections on Cup week

This time last week the anticipation for the 157th renewal of the Melbourne Cup was at high alert with the outcome an international result guaranteed to bring further attention to the 3200m handicap at Flemington on the first Tuesday of November.

Corey Brown salutes the Melbourne Cup victory, picture

The entire week had tightly focused racing at the highest level, but for the Cup there still seems a misconception about this race as it is run now. It brings comment that places should be ‘saved’ for local runners and wistful thinking that Australian’s are missing out to rampaging international runners.

What the Melbourne Cup is now, has been for at least the last decade, is a long distance race that has captured the imagination of those world-wide breeders and owners who, fortunately, are prepared to develop stayers. These people gamble with not just the immense expense of bringing horses to Victoria, but the immense expense and patience in developing them in the first place so they can participate.

They have been encouraged, correctly, by Racing Victoria to come with the promise of the adventure, the gamble, the huge riches on offer compared to their normal stakes and an atmosphere at the track, in the city, in the entire country that engulfs them.

One only had to watch a 24 year-old Joseph O’Brien blinking in the little sunshine Melbourne provided on the day before the Cup after he had been in the parade down Swanson Street, literally hours after his arrival in the city, to see the impact on him of the lead-up.

A colleague who was at Flemington for both Derby and Cup Days for the first time was amazed at the atmosphere of Melbourne. He commented that Louisville was a small city that was swamped with Kentucky Derby fever, but Melbourne was infinitely larger and was still swamped with Cup fever.

Flemington - Cup Day, picture

The race, though, with its international participation brings a benchmark of staying breeding and training excellence that everyone, world-wide, not just Australasia, can aspire to. It is not mediocrity, and that standard is shown to the world. For that alone we should be grateful for the leverage of our racing through co-mingling of wagering and the attention to bring other international breeding and racing investment and participation in our industry.

We should no more place limits on international participation in our industry than any other form of protectionism. Should the super and exceptionally well-bred filly Pinot not be allowed to run in the VRC Oaks because she has part-owners who are off-shore. Of course not and we should welcome more and bigger participation in our industry.

So it was congratulations to Joseph O’Brien for defeating his father Aidan with Rekindling (GB) over Joannes Vermeer (IRE) after a wonderful ride by Corey Brown on the winner. Once the two of them were in the main straight the drag race was always going to favour the younger runner with his weight pull, but he still had to be fit and strong enough to stay the distance.

Behind them another Irish master Willie Mullins had produced Max Dynamite (FR) to finish third, his second Cup placing. It was a wonderful feat to bring the now eight-year-old gelding back, and perhaps his age mattered in the effort to reach the two in front. Jockey Zac Purton was convinced he was going ‘so well’ off the final turn he had the race.

All three jockeys’, Brown, Purton and Ben Melham on Johannes Vermeer, rode to positional perfection in the race and their mounts were given the best opportunity because of that skill. There is excellence at play again.

Rekindled (GB) and Corey Brown following Max Dynamite (FR) and Zac Purton passing the post for the first time in the Cup, picture

So where does this leave Australasia for future renewals of the Cup. Improving actually. Casting an eye back to Saturday and the Victoria Derby there are signs of blooming stayers emerging from the past investment in staying stallions and then owners’ patiently waiting for maturity.

Ace High won, and well. He is a highly desirable sire prospect now, by the late, great High Chaparral; second was Sully, by Reliable Man from the Aga Khan’s Dalakhani and Darshaan line; third Astoria, by Medaglia d’Oro by El Prado and of course Sadler’s Wells like High Chaparral. As this column commented after in the Derby Reflections the fastest finisher of all was Wolfe Tone (NZ), by the Montjeu sire Mettre En Jeu out of a Zabeel mare.

There are more young staying sires to come on stream with their progeny, the administrators have enough staying races now to encourage their development and eventually we might get back the 3200m races that have been downgraded to 2400m. It is a slow and steady business, but the benchmark is there and the next five years will yield results to enter the Cup on merit.

The 2017 Cup week though was Gai Waterhouse’s and her younger trainer partner Adrian Bott. They were the leading trainers producing tough, smart on pace runners that Waterhouse is renowned for. It brought joy and colour, racing at its best with every sensory at play.

It was a slight jolt to think that Waterhouse had not won a VRC Oaks before. How could this be, no matter, a salute to Pinot and the dashing filly corrected the anomaly on Thursday under Stephen Baster who suits the stable style. Pierro over Group winner after Group winner, excellence on the track.

Finally a sea of red closed the week when the Snowden’s produced Redzel to win the Darley Classic. In the race report we called it sustained sprinting, and that sums up this tough gelding with a motor expertly rated by Kerrin McEvoy. There were faster sectionals by others, but it does not help catch the winner who runs at a higher average speed over the entire trip, not just one or two sectionals.

Then the owners arrive, somersaults in the mounting yard, hugging, red suits, caps, ties and let’s not ask what else, it all becomes a moving mass of red enjoying a moment of their lives they could not have imagined previously. It also brings slight relief for one part-owner who is battling serious illness.

Racing is like this, from the riches all round of the Cup, to the ability to gather people from all walks of life for their own moments of riches.

Celebrations time ahead as Pinot and Stephen Baster head for the line in the VRC Oaks, picture