By Kristen Manning
History repeated at Flemington on Nov. 1, as a French-trained winner of the Geelong Cup (Aus-III) captured Australia’s most famous race, the Aus$6 million Melbourne Cup (Aus-I) for the second consecutive year.
Creating Cup history was Dunaden, trained by Mikel Delzangles who honed his craft whilst working for Alain de Royer-Dupre, trainer of the favorite Americain . A year ago it was Americain in the spotlight as he raced away with the 150th running of the famed handicap.
Dunaden started second choice behind defending champ Americain on the strength of his stellar effort at Geelong, where he made a long sweeping run from 650 meters to win in convincing fashion.
Settling back in the running for fly-in jockey Christophe Lemaire—his original jockey Craig Williams was unsuccessful in a late appeal against a suspension incurred Oct. 26—Dunaden had six or so horses behind him for most of the running.
Still well back turning for home, the 6-year-old balanced up nicely at the top of the straight, getting clear with 350 meters to go and making up solid ground. It was not until 50 meters that he hit the lead and was immediately challenged by a gallant Red Cadeaux, with the duo locked together as they hit the line.
Lucas Cranach was third, with last year's winner Americain checking in a respectable fourth.
It was a nervous wait for all connections as the photograph took several minutes to decipher. The judge had to magnify it four times before finding the barest of margins between the two noses.
Neither jockey—Lemaire or local Michael Rodd—knew who had won, but once the result was finalized the former could not hide his joy.
“I was a bit anxious; I knew it was a bit close," Lemaire said. "I was told maybe the horse on the outside won so I was a bit disappointed because the horse gave everything.
“But then they said 'you won'—it was a great, great moment!”
Not knowing he had a Cup ride until a phone call from Delzangles over the weekend, Lemaire flew into Melbourne after riding at the Tenno Sho meeting in Japan on Sunday.
An acclaimed international rider whose big race victories include the French Derby (Fr-I), the Japan Cup (Jpn-I), and the Hong Kong Cup (HK-I), Lemaire was almost overwhelmed by the occasion.
“Emotionally it is the second best day of my career,” he enthused. “The first was the French Oaks (Fr-I) as all my family was there. But today is very special. You have to see it to believe it—the crowd, the atmosphere, the passion—you can feel it!”
Delzangles was also thrilled, as the win was the result of a longterm plan first discussed in May by him and Dunaden’s owner, Qatar’s Sheikh Fahad al Thani.
“We knew he was a good stayer since his win at the beginning of the year in France, but I have to say, it is the Sheikh who thought it would be a good idea to go to Melbourne,” Delzangles admitted.
“You need to have a horse who is able to quicken in the last furlong," Delzangles said, noting that the style of Australian racing is similar to French.
“Personally I thought it would be too difficult; there is so much travel. That was my big worry, but thanks to the Sheikh and thanks to Americain’s efforts last year, we decided to come over.
Delzangles was as overjoyed as Lemaire. “I am shaking. I thought I was beaten so it is even better! It is an amazing thrill—just amazing.”
A son of the Indian Ridge stallion Nicobar, a group II-winning miler in the United Kingdom and Italy, Dunaden cost a mere 1,500 euros for his original owners, his pedigree hardly impressive with no stakes winners within four generations of his family.
Formerly trained by Richard Gibson, who is now in Hong Kong, the good-looking horse came into the Cup as the winner of just over $500,000 and left Flemington with an impressive tally of Aus$4.3 million.