UNFORGETTABLE. That, in a word, sums up the Melbourne Cup and all that surrounded Australia's greatest race this week. When Mick Kinane and Vintage Crop hit the line three lengths clear of Te Akau Nick, they exploded some outmoded ideas in Australia but also made the Melbourne Cup a truly international race. After this victory, it is impossible for the Southern Hemisphere's greatest sporting event to slip back into a domestic showpiece. That would be a retrograde step that the Victorian Racing Club would never permit. Days later it is now just possible to look back on the 133rd running of the Cup on two fronts - professional and personal. Time, remorseless enemy of us all, erodes the memory when it comes to reflections on great moments in one's sporting life. Having watched the Melbourne Cup - or listened to it - for almost 30 years, it was the great experience expected when seeing it livefor the first time. English and Irish Derbys, Arcs, Classics in at least three other countries, four World Cup soccer finals . . . they all had great moments and memories. But 1993 at Flemington was the greatest and this is one race, one year, one winner that will simply live on. One memory that will be kept, fittingly enough, forever green. And for Kinane, Dermot Weld and Vintage Crop it was a race that was just meant to be. When the Irish champion jockey returned to Hong Kong in mid-October with Vintage Crop a confirmed runner, our chats frequently centred on the hopes and realities of the first Tuesday in November. The talks were always upbeat, but pessimism is scarcely a trait of the Irish. He had heard not a word from his trainer - seen as a most positive sign - but then went through a week of turmoil with his injured left thumb. Most of that is well known, but not that he was so doubtful about his condition two days after the injury that he was going to ask Weld to put former Hong Kong rider Brent Thomson on standby. But Kinane is nothing if not dedicated and utterly determined. He came through eight rides on Sunday at Sha Tin and left for Melbourne fit and ready. Somewhere over the Philippines about four hours into the flight and 35,000 feet up it was agreed that Vintage Crop would win - if Dermot was definite the horse was ready. Then came a highly publicised walk of the track just after arrival and about 24 hours before the Cup was due to start. ''It's very firm, we could do with a bit of rain,'' said Kinane. Bingo, it bucketed down that night and a fresh walk of the course at 11 am on Cup day produced a cryptic verdict: ''Perfect ground for him.'' In the parade ring with millions watching on television and 80,000 on course, Weld turned to his jockey and said: ''It's the first time that I have been truly happy with him. He is going to run one helluva race.'' And that he did, despite being slowly away. Kinane's reflections on the race centred on the start and the lack of real pace at one stage of the 3,200-metre event. ''I had to hunt him up early to get to the position I wanted. I was never going to be caught at the back in that field. Then they crawled but that did allow me to get to fifth or sixth,'' he said. The other worrying moment came before the turn when Drum Taps - of all horses - dropped back on him and Vintage Crop had to be switched for room. ''Even before that I had to push him right along to get him in there. He wasn't going to do it for a while. But once we got the room and straightened, I knew we were there. We were 10 lengths off the lead but that was nothing to him,'' said Kinane. But Vintage Crop ran his heart out doing it. ''He came back wrecked. He'll need months off. He just stood there and wouldn't go into the unsaddling enclosure. The fellow on the grey horse was tugging at him and I told him to leave off. He's done everything he can and he'll move when he's ready. ''He ran the last furlong and a half on his heart. You don't get too many like that,'' said Kinane. The emphatic victory caused many red faces in Australia and some immediate calls for change. The VRC will be pressed to change the date of their weights issue for the race so that horses like Vintage Crop will not be able to win the Irish St Leger and escape a penalty. But it doesn't really matter that much. A superb training feat by Weld - easily in the world's top half dozen in the profession - a peerless riding performance and, from Vintage Crop, the courage that sets apart the good ones from the rest, all combined to show it was possible to fly halfway round the world and win the great race. However, it is unlikely that Vintage Crop's win will open the floodgates. It costs plenty to send a horse to Melbourne and it's not every owner who will do that. Vintage Crop will almost certainly be back next year to defend his crown - and Vintage Crop will certainly be made welcome, as will Weld, Kinane, Dave Phillips who looked after him so well, and the Smurfit family. The genuine warmth and sincerity of the congratulations that flowed over Weld and Kinane helped to make a great occasion even more memorable. Kinane has won virtually everything worth winning in international racing but he said: ''This has been very special. I haven't had anything like this before.'' My own special memories will remain a white-clothed table at a city restaurant around 1 am with Weld and Kinane on one side and my old friend and colleague, Jim McGrath and myself on the other. In between what it had all been about . . . the Melbourne Cup. I can't recall a celebratory drink from any other cup tasting better. Oh, and a bookmaker who had bit of trouble paying out. But that happens sometimes - even in Australia. If you happened to be Irish and in Melbourne last Tuesday there was no better place on earth. We took the Cup, got their money - but left them with a smile and a race to remember. They insist they want us back next year - even the bookmakers. We'll be there - you can bet on it.