Delta Blues and Pop Rock journeyed from Japan to etch themselves and crew into Australian folklore with a titanic finish in the Nov. 7 Melbourne Cup (Aust-I).
In the first Cup in four years not dominated by Makybe Diva, only inches separated the pair at the wire after the demanding 3,200 meters. Victory went to Delta Blues by a half head from his more fancied stablemate.
Bred and raced by the Yoshida brothers-controlled Northern Farms, the history making duo are handled by Katsuhiko Sumii. He became just the fourth trainer to provide the first two finishers in the 145 year-old history of Australia's most famous race.
Dermot Weld-trained pair, Vintage Crop and Media Puzzle, are the others to successfully mount a Cup challenge from the northern hemisphere.
A crowd of almost 107,000 braved unseasonably cold spring conditions at Flemington for the $5 million (Australian funds) event, 22,000 less than on Derby day (Nov 4).
Delta Blues (17-1) was perfectly ridden by Yasunari Iwata, leading in the stretch the first time before trailing in second. When Irish challenger Yeats and Kieren Fallon took the lead into the final 800 meters, Iwata came off the rail to track the 59kg topweight.
As Yeats weakened to seventh, Delta Blues took over in the lead soon after the 23 wheeled into the lane. Third and fourth, Maybe Better and Zipping, challenged but the leader appeared safe, until his heavily backed Pop Rock (5-1 equal favorite) stablemate challenged.
Chasing his third Melbourne Cup, Damien Oliver on Pop Rock appeared certain to overhaul the other Japanese entry in the final 100 meters, but Delta Blues fought back to deny them.
Australian-bred Maybe Better (9-1) led the local and European horses 4 1/2 lengths from the Asian raiders. The first European to the wire was 200-1 shot Land 'n Stars in fifth.
Principal owner Katsumi Yoshida and his jockey only arrived in Melbourne the day before the race, the trainer a few days earlier. "After this, they [Japanese owners] will all want to come," Yoshida said.
Delta Blues is a son of Dance in the Dark, a champion son of Sunday Silence. The Cup winner is from gr. III place-getter Dixie Splash, from the outstanding broodmare sire Dixieland Band.
In Tokyo, where race fans were reduced to watching the race on the Internet, Japanese Racing Association president Masayuki Takahashi declared it a 'wonderful' result.
"Japanese thoroughbred horses have shown their strength to the world."