As if to foreshadow several upsets-in-waiting at Santa Anita during the 20th Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, Fields of Omagh sprung a 16-1 surprise in the W.S. Cox Plate (Aust-I) at Melbourne, Australia, on the same day (Oct. 25).
Success in the $4 million (Australian funds) weight-for-age championship completed a wonderful comeback story for the gelded 6-year-old. A second suspensory ligament injury threatened to end his career when fifth to Northerly in the Australian Cup (Aust-I) last fall. Trainer Tony McEvoy only dared for a second Cox attempt 14 days before the race. A year earlier he ran fifth as Northerly--whom he had chased home in the Caulfield Cup (Aust-I)--collected his second Cox.
McEvoy took over the Australian operation of the Hayes family's famous Lindsay Park after the death of Peter Hayes in a light aircraft crash in 2001. He has been with the organization since an apprentice jockey to its founder, the late Colin Hayes.
In relegating Defier (10-1) to another brave second, Fields of Omagh displayed immense courage for Stephen King. It enabled them to mug Lonhro on the way to his coronation.
Seeking win No. 23 from 30 starts and his 10th straight at set-weights, Lonhro was expected to emulate his sire Octagonal and take the 82nd Cox. It was the dying wish of his part owner, Jack Ingham. The co-head of Australia's largest racing empire died in August at age 82.
Lonhro returned to Moonee Valley in search of atonement from his critics. The only real blemish on a stunning career was in the Cox at four when a distant sixth after blowing the start. Not a few observers tritely hung affirmation of the champion tag on his setting things right. At 4-7, he was the shortest-priced Cox elect since Tobin Bronze won in 1967.
Continual rain 30 minutes before and during the race would have affected him less obviously than Defier, the Dehere son a noted wet-track duffer. In any case Lonhro's crew; Bob Ingham, handler John Hawkes and rider Darren Beadman, would tender no excuses.
To continue his association with the black horse in the Cox, Beadman said prayers assisted him in a suspension shortened by one meeting on appeal. A less than independent tribunal swapped a $30,000 fine for the reduced ban. Some fans detected a glimmer of justice in Lonhro's defeat.
Beadman settled Lonhro seventh of the eight runners as Argentine distaffer Paraca carved out solid fractions for the first half of the 2,040 meters. Fields of Omagh inherited the lead from Shower of Roses 600 meters out and came off the last of three tight bends with a rapidly diminishing lead. Defier had closed from fourth, Lonhro poised to pounce.
The trio chased the noise up the shortest stretch of any major Australian oval towards the packed stands. Here script and reality went their separate ways. Defier was having an enormous amount of trouble picking up Fields of Omagh, and having drawn within a length, Lonhro could gain no more ground.
Amid the tumult, Fields of Omagh just kept finding a little more. At the wire his neck lead was about the same as he'd carried into the final furlong. Lonhro was a farther half-length adrift. On a nylon-meshed track slowed by rain, the 2:7.61 was four seconds outside the track record.
Fields of Omagh is by 1988 Australian Horse of the Year Rubiton, the second Cox winner to sire another. Rubiton has sired several grand sprinters, but this son was left unsold as a yearling and a slow conveyance at two and three. He has won $3.2 million.
Some syndicate members might have jumped ship, but loyalty to Bryan Martin stayed them. Martin had to cope with calling the race for a national television and local radio audience, but the practice of calling his horse win this race in the shower helped enormously.
A grand opportunity escaped Lonhro, but he had his shot. Yet a lot of dreams came to fruition, a whole Field full of them.