The Spring Carnival is Australian racing’s greatest showpiece and this year reinforced its status as a global icon.
This year had it all – from virtual unknowns achieving success against the odds to the world’s biggest racing operation finally winning the race that they wanted above all others, from one of the greatest of all-time enhancing her legacy to a jumps jockey who stole the show during Australian flat racing’s biggest week, to large groups of unrelated people sharing in racing’s biggest moments.
No other racing carnival comes close to matching what the Victorian Spring Racing Carnival does each year.
Winx, for the fourth year in succession, dominated the scene as she created history with her fourth Cox Plate success after winning the Turnbull Stakes as her lead up.
A winning sequence of 29 consecutive races, a world record of 22 Group 1 wins, and the highest prizemoney earnings of any thoroughbred in history with over $22.9 million say it all.
Her partners Chris Waller and Hugh Bowman, as trainer and jockey, continue to manage the expectations of the racing masses superbly. Whatever the future may hold, Winx, Waller and Bowman are assured of their places in racing folklore.
It would be so easy to just focus on Winx but that is what makes the Spring Carnival so special, there are great stories everywhere.
Think of the remarkable training performance by Sarah Zschoke with her five-year-old gelding Eduardo.
A five-year-old gelded son of Host, Eduardo is one of three actively racing horses in the care of Cranbourne-based Zschoke and by far the best.
After winning his first two starts in the winter, he resumed with a game second in a Benchmark 78 race at Caulfield in early spring.
Those are not the usual form lines to suggest that he would be competitive in feature sprint races but Zschoke took a chance and entered Eduardo in the Group 2 Gilgai Stakes, a race won in previous years by the likes of Group 1 winners Chautauqua and The Quarterback.
He ran second, beaten a neck. Most form pundits suggested that Zschoke should lower her targets and bring Eduardo back in class, let him build a record before taking on the best.
Zschoke ignored them and took Eduardo, with regular jockey Brian Park aboard, to Caulfield for the $200,000 Group 2 Caulfield Sprint over 1000m on Caulfield Cup Day and he ran his rivals ragged.
Eduardo’s win gave the young trainer and her partner/jockey their greatest success in racing so far and the horse, with only five starts under his belt, looks set to be a big force in the coming Festival of Racing in the new year.
While Zschoke was having her first moments in the spring carnival spotlight, for world racing powerhouse Godolphin it was more of the same.
The famous royal blue colours of Godolphin have been carried to success in most of the world’s greatest races, but the Lexus Melbourne Cup was a rare omission and one that Sheikh Mohammed was desperate to win.
Arguably the strongest team of horses to represent Godolphin arrived in Melbourne for the spring, highlighted by international Group 1 winners Benbatl, Jungle Cat and Best Solution, complimenting the locally trained Godolphin string.
Godolphin is utterly unique in its management. With trainers Saeed bin Suroor, Charlie Appleby and James Cummings running their individual stables, one could easily think that there would be a rivalry amongst the trio. Instead, there is comradery and friendship, each sharing in their successes and that of Godolphin.
This was on display during the Carnival, whether it was bin Suroor winning the Caulfield Stakes with Benbatl or Caulfield Cup with Best Solution, Appleby winning the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes with Jungle Cat, or James Cummings’ winning the Bart Cummings with Avilius.
But it shone brightest when, finally, Godolphin scored a famous win in the Lexus Melbourne Cup with Cross Counter after so many misses. Although trained by Appleby, it was a win shared by all at Godolphin.
A three-year-old son of Teofilo, Cross Counter was the least experienced hose in the field for the Cup and was drawn wide in barrier 19. Yet at just his eighth start, the colt showed why he is considered one of the best young stayers of recent years by storming home from the rear of the field to win, giving outstanding jockey Kerrin McEvoy his third success in Australia’s greatest race.
McEvoy spent many years riding for Godolphin in Europe and Australia, the emotion at winning the Cup for his greatest supporter was not lost on him. It was a special moment.
Irishman Johnny Allen’s overnight success as a jockey in Australia is many years in the making. A native of County Cork, Allen arrived in Australia initially to ride as a jumps jockey due to limited opportunities in his homeland.
Having got his weight under control, he is now a multiple Group 1 winning flat jockey and a key component in the success of champion trainer Darren Weir.
Despite winning plenty of flat races with Weir, including two South Australian Derbies, Allen finally rose to prominence in the broader public’s eyes in this year’s spring.
Allen guided the well-backed Extra Brut to a stunning win in Australia’s oldest Classic race for three-year-olds, the $2 million AAMI Victoria Derby. The following Saturday, he won the $2 million Group 1 Seppelt Mackinnon Stakes on outsider Trap For Fools, giving Jarrod McLean his first elite level training success.
Weir often calls Allen “the greatest horseman I’ve ever had anything to do with” and we can now expect others to take notice after his exploits during the Melbourne Cup Carnival.
Extra Brut was raced by a large syndicate of owners, brought together by Brad Spicer of Spicer Thoroughbreds. Many were buying into their first horse. In the week leading up to the Victoria Derby, Aquis Farm bought into the son of their stallion Domesday for a considerable fee. All benefited significantly from the result in winning the $2 million feature.
Similarly, another syndicated horse won the Kennedy Oaks, the fillies staying championship race of the spring. Her name is Aristia, raced by a large group of owners brought together by First Light Racing and trained by Mathew Ellerton and Simon Zahra.
The scenes in the mounting yard after Extra Brut and Aristia’s successes show all things that are great about Australian racing, especially the spring carnival.
People from all walks of life and often unknown to each other, united by their interests in a horse, sharing their excitement and joy like lifelong friends. It was magic to watch.
It was a carnival that had it all.