It was a tale of two, actually make that three, countries when the $5 million Melbourne Cup came to an end—and none of them was Australia.
Yet again, another New Zealand-bred galloper, former 3-year-old Australian champion Efficient (Zabeel--Refused The Dance), now a 4-year-old, won the biggest prize on the Australasian Thoroughbred calendar.
Efficient came from worse than midfield in the two-mile Melbourne Cup to claim the English-bred galloper Purple Moon (Galileo--Vanishing Prairie) by a half-length. Another three lengths away in third was the Irish-bred lightweight Mahler (Galileo--Rainbow Goddess).
The first Aussie-bred home was Zipping in fourth.
But it was the manner of the win by a horse that this time last year was being touted as perhaps the best 3-year-old Australian racing enthusiasts had seen for a few decades. Efficient was that good in winning the $1.5 million VRC Derby (Aust-I) with Michael Rodd in the saddle in 2006. That was 12 months ago and he was entered as an immature 3-year-old for the Melbourne Cup of 2006. But his connections changed their minds on the morning of the race and he was sensationally withdrawn.
“We wanted to keep him for 2007 and I am glad now that we did,” said his owner and training coordinator, Lloyd Williams. The afternoon of the 2006 Cup, Efficient was installed favorite for this year.
But 12 months is a long time in racing and Efficient’s form, unbelievably, dropped off. Rodd was taken off him and replaced by Stephen Arnold, and six starts after winning the Derby, he entered the barriers on Cup day 2007 having not won or placed in another race.
“He lost admirers and people dropped off him,” said Nick Williams, son of the horse’s owner. “But we didn’t. We had a long-term program mapped out and I hope those people who bagged our preparation for this day are looking at me now. You can plainly see that you were the ones that got it wrong…not us.”
Williams didn’t miss the knockers, but he wasn’t at all bitter, angry or ready to let any criticism ruin his joy of the moment.
Rodd, over the moon as all young jockeys are who land a Melbourne Cup winner, simply could not believe it. “I have only been interested in racing for the past nine years but from that day I have been dreaming of this. I have to pinch myself just to understand what has happened. I am numb but am so thankful Lloyd put me back on this horse. Efficient was the one who put me on the map this time last year when we won the Derby and this is the greatest feeling I have ever had. No one deserves a win like this more than Lloyd, who brought me down from the Gold Coast where I was based just over 12 months ago to ride for him, an when he phoned me this morning to talk tactics, he was very confident I would go close to winning.”
Rodd, just 23, was sensationally taken off Efficient after winning the Derby. He had won two big races in a row on him that included the Derby. The horse went for a spell, came back for two starts in the fall of the Australian racing season without success, and then was rested again. Arnold was the chosen pilot for his four lead up races to the Cup, but he chose to ride another of Williams’ runners in the Cup in Gallic.
“Lloyd phoned me and asked did I want to link back up with my old favorite and of course I said yes,” said Rodd.
Gallic was withdrawn the morning of the race, leaving the luckless Arnold without a ride, which was amended about three hours later when he was offered the ride on Railings following a fall suffered by that horse’s jockey early on Cup day. Railings finished second last.
“That’s racing,” said Arnold. “Good luck to Michael. He rode him really well.”
“I’d go further than that,” claimed Williams, the billionaire casino owner whose love of his own horses actually sees him have a very hands owner. Graeme Rogerson is officially the trainer, but it is Williams who calls the shots on everything to do with the horses.
Williams did not go to the track, preferring to watch the race at home. He had another runner in the event, Zipping, who looked the winner at the two-furlong post when he loomed up to be within two lengths of Mahler and Purple Moon, who were battling for the lead and looking strong.
With the first and fourth, Williams walked away with $4,200,000 of the overall prize money.
Purple Moon was superbly ridden by Damien Oliver. He was always within striking distance, and when he claimed Mahler with a furlong left to go and surged clear, he looked home. It was the third time Oliver finished second in the Cup.
Mahler, the baby of the field and who looked stirred up prior to the race, was within the top three throughout and kept battling to the wire. Next year he should be a major Melbourne Cup threat.
“Very brave effort,” agreed his trainer, Aiden O’Brien. “The atmosphere at this track is unbelievable and I have never seen anything like it in the world. It is a pleasure to be here but it is also understandable he got a little fired up. And remember, this is only his eighth run in a race so I was very proud of him.”
Over 115,000 spectators were on course on a day conducted under perfect blue skies.
Of the others, Caulfield Cup winner and race favorite Master O’Reilly finished eighth. “I asked him to go with five furlongs left and he just didn’t accelerate,” said his rider, Vlad Duric. “I don’t know whether he’s had enough this time up or just found the distance beyond him but it was disappointing. Still, there is always next year.”
Sirmione, the surprise winner of the big prep race, the McKinnon Stakes, last Saturday, was 12th and looked flat.
The two female riders acquitted themselves admirably. Clair Lindop on Dolphin Jo was fifth and that horse earned her 83-year-old husband and wife connections $125,000, while Lisa Cropp who rode Sculptor, also picked up some money by guiding him home in ninth spot. In the Melbourne Cup, horses from 6th to 10th receive $80,000 in purse money each.
Efficient was having his 13th start and this was his sixth win. He has won $4,221,000.
Efficient returned $22.10 for every $1 invested on him—a big price considering he was favorite 11 months ago.