Godolphin’s Cross Counter has won Australia’s most prestigious horse race, the Melbourne Cup, setting a series of firsts but giving jockey Kerrin McEvoy his third Cup trophy.
The British-bred horse saw off rivals in a field of 24 to take the Cup, the annual blockbuster event at Flemington Racecourse that this year was drenched by heavy rain that soaked spectators and the 3200-meter (two mile) track.
Trained by Charlie Appleby, Cross Counter became the first English-trained horse to win the race, taking the top prize of $2.8 million. With Marmelo finishing second and A Prince of Arran coming third, it was an all-English podium finish.
It was also first win for Godolphin, the mega-stable founded by the Vice President of the UAE and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
“It’s great to be stood here and it’s fantastic for Godolphin,” Appleby told CNN affiliate Seven News Australia after Cross Counter and McEvoy’s win.
“He made a beautiful move around the outside, down the back straight there, got himself into contention. He just needed the gaps there, that’s all he needed.”
As the first British trainer to win, he said: “I’m so lucky… to be in this position to be able to train these horses. I’m just delighted that I can repay his Highness Sheikh Mohammed for putting me in this position, and trusting me in the position to do what I’m doing. It’s just great for the team.”
Irish horse ThecliffsofMoher, ridden by Ryan Moore, pulled up lame during the race and was later euthanized, the Australian RSPCA confirmed. It was the sixth horse to die in the race since 2013, the tweet from the anti-animal cruelty organization noted.
Ahead of the race, Aidan O’Brien-trained Yucatan, owned by six-time Melbourne Cup winner Lloyd Williams, was strong favorite but the sodden conditions threw the form book out the window. Godolphin’s Cross Counter, a four-year-old gelding with just seven race starts, along with another British challenger Magic Circle, trained by Ian Williams, took most of the punters’ money in the minutes ahead of the race.
Heavy rain slowed progress on the track and created challenging conditions in the stands, with Australian media reporting that the roofs had collapsed of some facilities at Flemington.
Temporary boardwalks had to be laid down to save punters’ shoes from the rising floodwaters at Flemington’s world-famous Birdcage, but the skies had cleared by the time the main event came around at 3 p.m. local time (12 a.m ET).
Ahead of the Bumble Stakes warm-up race, jockey Beau Mertens said the conditions were “crazy” and that visibility was severely limited by the downpour.
“There’s a lot of surface water and I couldn’t see too many meters in front of me,” he told the official Flemington website.
“(They are) crazy conditions. Craziest conditions I’ve ridden in. I think I’ve got a kilo of water in each boot.”
Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Michael Efron told CNN affiliate Seven News that almost 18mm of rain fell in the area in the four hours leading up to 11 a.m.
The rain caused delays to races two and three, and also to trains bringing racing fans to the course, according to tweets from Melbourne’s public transport network.
Nearby Flemington Station had been shut down and racegoers were advised to walk from the Showground station, 20 minutes away, the ABC’s Nathan Stitt reported on Twitter.
The Australian’s Rachel Baxendale also tweeted that flooding around the racecourse had slowed traffic to “a snail’s pace.”
The Melbourne Cup has a long tradition in Australia as on of the few horse races to attract the nation’s attention.
The event has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, with a growing number of Australians boycotting the Cup on animal cruelty grounds. A hotel in Sydney has faced both backlash and praise for hosting an anti-Melbourne Cup event, News.com.au reported.
Protesters used the opportunity on Tuesday to highlight animal rights and the country’s treatment of refugees.
The Cup dates back to 1865 and was the result of a rivalry between two horse race organizing committees – the Victorian Jockey Club and the Victorian Turf Club, with the latter introducing the event as a handicap race. While it’s now famously run on the first Tuesday of November, it wasn’t until 10 years after its inauguration that the date became the tradition. It’s since become the defining fixture of the Australian horse racing calendar.
While the first Cup was won in 1865, the race was originally run four years earlier – but the winner only received prizes and a cash purse. The winner of the first Cup, Mr Marshall, owner of Tory Boy, described it as a “monstrosity,” according to the National Museum of Australia.
Outlandish celebration avoided
The Melbourne Cup has long eluded British trainers, and while Magic Circle had a good opportunity to break the spell, it was another UK-based horse that took that honor.
Magic Circle, a pre-race favorite, was already a six-time winner when he joined Williams’$2 100-strong string at Dominion Stables and looked the part for the British trainer and owner Marwan Koukash after claiming stellar victories in the Chester Cup and at Sandown this season before booking his place in Tuesday’s headline event at Flemington.
Williams has already entered the history books by becoming the first trainer to win at every racecourse – Flat or jump racing – in the UK, but came up short with Magic Circle, a six-year-old gelding he bought last October for Koukash, a former refugee from the Middle East who has built up a multimillion dollar business in England’s northwest.
Cross Counter’s win has spared Melburnians the sight of Koukash’s outlandish planned celebration.
“I fit into my G-string now,” Koukash told racing.com three days before the race.
“When we win nobody at Flemington is going to stop me providing the best or most colorful celebrations we’ve ever had or likely to have.
“I’m going to take off my clothes off, keep my tie and thong and shoes socks on. I know they’re going to employ security, but I know how to evade them and I’m going to deliver.”