The great Melbourne Cup dream is alive and well after all.
On the most typical of Melbourne days we found yet again that anyone can win the great race — but it’s probably a bit more likely if you are a billionaire Sheikh with a lavish, five-city racing empire, housing more than 1,000 richly bred thoroughbreds.
In two ways Godolphin’s long, expensive and futile quest to win the Melbourne Cup had invested the race with a certain appeal.
That Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum was so eager to get his hands on the trophy gave the race the kind of international cache it so desperately craved.
Kerrin McEvoy has now won three Melbourne Cups, but it’s a long-awaited first for the Godolphin stable. (AAP: Albert Perez)
At the same time, the failure of the Sheik’s many runners to cross the line first seemed to prove that, quite literally, money could not buy everything; a message even more poignant in the ever-less-likely event Godolphin’s blue-blooded runners were beaten by a local battler.
And after Cross Counter stormed past Marmelo in the Flemington slop to give Sheikh Al his long awaited victory?
A hoodoo was lifted, a dream fulfilled and, you imagine, somewhere inside a desert palace a yelp of delight was heard.
But at the same time (about 8.04am in Dubai) the last pretence the Melbourne Cup is not now merely the plaything of the racing elite was removed — money can buy the cherished gold loving cup.
This is not to deny the emotional investment that no doubt accompanies Godolphin’s massive financial investment, or the superb horsemanship of Cross Counter’s English-based trainer Charlie Appleby and Australian jockey Kerrin McEvoy.
Appleby said he had spoken to the Sheikh straight after and he was “over the moon”. (He did not say whether this was because he had won the Melbourne Cup or was in a private jet so lavish it was capable of lunar exploration.)
Godolphin’s representative at the presentation, Hugh Anderson, reminded the crowd Cross Counter’s victory meant the stable had won Group One races in France, the USA and Australia in the past six weeks, while Appleby had achieved the Epsom Derby-Melbourne Cup double this year.
Forgive local stables still dreaming of winning a Dubbo maiden for not getting a tear in their eye upon hearing of these well-funded achievements.
Yet even as the Melbourne Cup goes offshore again, there are many in the Australian racing industry who will toast Godolphin’s victory with some very expensive bubbly.
When I wrote somewhat facetiously about the “romance” of Godolphin’s Melbourne Cup quest some years ago, I received a very curt letter from the head of a major local breeding operation, pointing out the many ways the Sheikh’s investment benefitted Australian racing — or at least those whose businesses he patronised.
But in the year when the balance towards so-called “foreign raiders” and imported stayers raced by local stables seemed to have reached tipping point, the Sheikh’s victory seemed somehow symbolic of its transition.
Cross Counter came from a long way back to stun the field in the Melbourne Cup. (AAP: Dave Crosling)
Like the Melbourne Grand Prix or the Australian Open, the Melbourne Cup is now an event hosted by Australia in which world-class performers battle for the main prize only very occasionally challenged by a local contender.
Unless you are one of those who bemoan the absence of the “bush battlers” who once connected the race to its rich history, this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Roger Federer, Lewis Hamilton and Cross Counter — wonderful stars all. And as we pointed out on this site, horses don’t have passports and the nationality of the runners don’t matter.
But surely the badly diminished hopes of local stables of even having a Melbourne Cup runner do.
Otherwise, if not for Godolphin’s drought-breaking win, this Melbourne Cup might have been remembered either for the classic “four seasons in one day” weather — torrential rain that briefly threatened to have the race postponed until the second Thursday in November, then bright sunshine that left some frisky runners soaked in sweat as they entered the barriers.
One of those perspiring thoroughbreds was The Cliffsofmoher, a bad omen for the Irish stayer which broke down with a fractured shoulder after 600 metres, almost knocking over several other runners, including the eventual winner.
The Cliffsofmoher became the sixth horse to die at the Melbourne Cup festival since 2013. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
The Cliffsofmoher was destroyed on the track behind the all-too-familiar protective screens as the heaving crowd hailed the winner.
The animal rights protesters who appear at major race meetings are often mocked by racegoers bemused by their passion and their cause, while TV coverage routinely downplays the tragedy that follows a race fall in order to protect the sensitivities of “broadcast partners”.
Yet this Melbourne Cup proved everything has a price.
The price of such an arduous race is sometimes paid in horseflesh, while the price of victory requires pockets almost as deep as an oil well.