Into his final couple of races in his hometown of Sydney, Lonhro owns a strike rate of 75% and change. But the champion was mugged on the way to his 10th group I victory in his final Melbourne appearance Monday, his 22nd in a row as the betting favorite.
The mid-stretch incident in the $1 million (Australian funds) Darley Australian Cup would have sunk most. Even when Darren Beadman was able to extract the 5 year-old into the final 150 of the 2,000 meters, the task of catching the two years-younger Delzao appeared beyond the 1-2 favorite.
Beadman had Lonhro fifth at the rail of the 10 runners and travelled fourth into the stretch. When he attempted to put Lonhro into the race, however, Sound Action came in and Caulfield Cup winner Mummify shifted out. The squeeze stopped Lonhro in his tracks. Beadman didn't panic when the second attempt resulted in another check as Delzao swooped on the outside.
The anonymous gambler who bet a million to win $550,000 might have had second thoughts at this point. It seemed ages before Lonhro could gather momentum for his final charge. Once he reached top speed and was seemingly encouraged by the 17,000-plus crowd, he roared home to win by a head.
Of all his 25 wins in 33 starts, 23 at graded level, this was the finest hour of a racing idol. Despite a high International rating, Lonhro has always lived in the shadow of his famous dad, Octagonal. The Zabeel son is the best of an army to represent the Ingham family's all cerise silks -- none come close according to trainer John Hawkes.
Octagonal 's late and narrow escapes were stuff of legend, including the 1997 Australian Cup. The Australian Derby winner won 10 group Is and $5.88 million to be fifth on the all-time earnings list. The $655,000 from the Flemington Cup advanced Lonhro four places to seventh with $5,367,080.
Delzao was a courageous loser. A winner of five of 12 going in, the Encosta de Lago colt had shown potential against his own age. The addition of blinkers by handler Greg Kavanagh nearly produced the major race upset of the season.
Elvstroem (8-1), a group II winner at Delzao's expense in their previous run, was solid in finishing third, 2 1/4 lengths behind the first pair. The Danehill colt won the Victoria Derby (Aust-I) last spring and is on target for the Australian Derby (Aust-I) on April 10. The 2:01.67 time was 2.2 seconds outside Northerly's 3-year-old race record, but the cut in the track accounted for much of the difference. Pentastic battled on for fourth, just ahead of Mummify and Melbourne Cup-winning distaffer Makybe Diva. Third through sixth seem better over longer distances. Lonhro? He's just better.