Melbourne Cup Carnival Starts in Australia

Small was king at one of the biggest days of Thoroughbred racing in Australia, as the Melbourne Cup carnival opened at Flemington Oct 30. Less than 24 hours before Breeders' Cup XX1, a record 115,000 attended the 150th Victoria Derby (Aust-I). It was a day for the little guy and I don't just mean the jockeys.

Savabeel brought his spanking new reputation to the $1.5 million (Australian funds) classic having defeated his elders in the $3 million W.S. Cox Plate (Aust-I) a week earlier. But the heir apparent to his sire Zabeel went down to Plastered, a colt bought back by his breeders, the Spencer family, for $7,000 as a yearling in Perth.

The Spencers stand his sire Laranto, by Nijinsky II horse Esperanto, at their Clairfontaine Stud. They sold him privately to dealer Michael Grant, who entered him in a ready-to-run auction but withdrew when the then 2-year-old knocked a knee.

Jockey Paul Harvey, 34 acquired the ninth foal from Tipples for his wife, Janelle, at $35,000. She brought in friends Elio and Jacqi Galante and Lindsey Smith to train. Smith, 45, and Harvey combined to win the Australian Cup (Aust-I) at Flemington 18 months ago as Old Comrade upset the recently-retired Northerly.

Plastered posted a five-for-six record in his home state before winning his Derby prep at Moonee Valley Oct 23. In the Derby, Harvey brought the 9-4 co-favorite from last of 10 at the final bend to outstay Savabeel (9-4) by 11<$k-10>/4<$> lengths in an exciting finale. The 2:35.49 for the 2,500 meters was solid on a drying track. Plastered has won seven of eight and $1,183,940. Count Ricardo failed by a nose to catch Savabeel for second, but the $135,000 third prize advanced him to $271,000, a grand return on his $800 purchase price by sophomore trainer Stephen Theodore.

Unplaced Cox runners Grand Armee and Miss Potential restored fortunes by winning group Is. Grand Armee is Hennessy's marquee in the south and the best weight-for-age horse around. He came off a luckless Cox fourth for a four-length victory in the Mackinnon Stakes. Miss Potential sank heavy favorite Alinghi by a nose in the group I debut of the Empire Rose Stakes, for distaffers at 1,600 meters.

But the biggest small story of the day belonged to Joe Janiak, from Queanbeyan, near Canberra--the nation's capital. A trainer for 30 years, he has spent more time driving taxis than handling horses, but the 57-year-old won the 1,200 meters Salinger Stakes (Aust-I) with $1,400 purchase Takeover Target. It was the first time at Flemington for Janiak and apprentice jockey Jay Ford. The Meringo Stud Farm-bred 5-year-old Celtic Swing son with a swag of leg problems has earned $533,000 in seven unbeaten starts.

Derby day 2004 had more than a few fairytales come true.