Dunaden wins closest Melbourne Cup in history
When French jockey Christophe Lemaire arrived in Australia on Monday, he was not sure he would even have a Melbourne Cup ride.
A little over 24 hours later he prevailed in a thrilling photo finish to win the A$6 million race aboard the French-trained stayer Dunaden, roared on by a huge crowd of more than 100,000.
Lemaire's triumph was tinged with regret for the rider he replaced, Craig Williams, whose dream of a historic Australian racing treble was dashed when a tribunal turned down his bid to appeal against a 10-race ban on Monday.
Williams, who won local marquee races the Caulfield Cup and the Cox Plate in the lead-up, would have been 'devastated' to miss out, said Lemaire, who first saw the track on Monday and did not know he was racing until after his plane touched down that morning.
'I didn't know if I could ride or not ... I was waiting for the judgment,' Lemaire said. 'But thanks to the owners I could come, even if I was not sure I could ride. For me it was a pleasure to come for the Melbourne Cup, even if I was just a spectator. Today is very special, as I had heard of the Melbourne Cup before, but you really have to see it to believe it. Today, because of the crowd, because of the atmosphere and the passion you can feel ... winning a race like this is really something special.'
The 32-year-old rider said he felt for Williams, who had partnered Dunaden to his impressive Geelong Cup win.
'I feel disappointed for him, he must be devastated,' Lemaire said. 'Winning the Melbourne Cup in this country - it's a dream and of course, he missed it. I hope he will recover well from this bad moment and for sure he will win big races again.
'Two years ago I had a fall just before the [Prix de] l'Arc [de Triomphe] meeting and I lost eight winners, including four Group Ones ... so I know what it is to be in your armchair watching your horses winning.'
Lemaire did well to get cover from gate 13, racing in the back half of the field. He had a good trail into the race and got clear with about 300m to go. Runner-up Red Cadeaux sprinted quickly on his outside and took a half-length advantage approaching the final furlong (200 metres).
But Dunaden, who was an 8.5-1 second favourite, showed tenacity to fight back and score by the barest of margins. The official winning margin of a nose was the shortest in the race's 151-year history.
Lucas Cranach was third and last year's winner, Americain (4-1 favourite), was a fast-finishing fourth after racing well back in the field for Hong Kong-based jockey Gerald Mosse.
Dunaden trainer Mikel Delzangles was a long-time assistant to Americain's trainer Alain de Royer Dupre and said his former mentor's 2010 success had blazed a trail for French horses. 'It made us realise it was possible to do it,' he said.
Dunaden followed the identical pre-race path to Americain, winning the Geelong Cup in his only Australian lead-up run.
'It worked once and I didn't know anything about here, so I decided to do the same,' said Delzangles, who added there could be even more French horses targeting the race in the future.
'The way races are run in France are similar to how they are run in Australia, so that definitely helps.
'You need to have a horse who is able to quicken in the last furlong.'
The victory was a sweet one for prolific owner Sheikh Fahad Al Thani of Qatar, a relative newcomer to racing who has created a big impression with his judicious purchases.
'This is one of the biggest races in the world to win and we got into the game to compete at the top level,' the 23-year-old said. 'I fully appreciate it and understand that you just don't get these chances in life. Probably this chance is once in a lifetime. You need to be lucky and you need to be good.'
lengths is the longest winning margin by a Melbourne Cup winner, achieved by
- Archer in 1862
- Rain Lover in 1968