Demoted Dettori endures Melbourne Cup frustration

Australian-bred Vow And Declare takes renewal as Dettori left to rue luck and ‘cry’

Craig Williams (nearest rail) aboard Vow and Declare wins the Melbourne Cup in Melbourne. Photograph: Getty

Frankie Dettori’s ability to grab centre stage meant this agonising failure to nail an elusive Melbourne Cup victory captured much of the attention at Flemington on Tuesday.

However on the back of what was ultimately a dramatic win for local runner Vow And Declare, Aidan O’Brien appeared entitled to a frustrated sense of “what if” also.

Dettori’s 17th attempt to win Australia’s most famous race saw him just denied on Joseph O’Brien’s Master Of Reality.

“I want to cry,” admitted the world’s most famous jockey as he went back to the weigh room having finished runner-up for a third time in the Race that stops a Nation.


Salt got rubbed into any tears though when Dettori was hit with an eight-day ban for careless riding – and Master Of Reality demoted to fourth – after an incident in the final strides that ultimately could have cost O’Brien snr a first Melbourne Cup victory.

The Irish man hasn’t been trying as long as Dettori to win the cup. But considering Il Paradiso’s luckless passage he might be forgiven too for fearing his day in the Melbourne sun might never come.

Il Paradiso, fourth past the post, but promoted to third by the stewards, put up a notable display considering how much went wrong for the three-year-old.

Wayne Lordan’s mount missed the break badly and was last in the opening stages of the AUS$8 million highlight.

With Master Of Reality’s stable companion, Twilight Payment, controlling a tepid pace from the front, Lordan found himself marooned at the back of the field. Il Paradiso still had only two behind him half a mile out when the tempo finally quickened and Dettori went for broke.

For much of the straight Master Of Reality looked likely to finally provide Dettori’s date with cup destiny, appearing to have the measure of Vow And Declare on his inside and the English runner Prince Of Arran outside him.

Il Paradiso though eventually began carving a passage through the pack and in full flight went for a gap between Vow and Declare and Master Of Reality.

That coincided with Dettori’s mount drifting left, leaving Il Paradiso as the meat in a sandwich and appearing to have his momentum stopped.

Lordan didn’t object, hardly too surprising considering the interference came from a horse trained by Joseph O’Brien for whom Lordan rode Iridessa to Breeders Cup glory on Saturday.

But the stewards took the matter into their own hands and handed Dettori the third Melbourne Cup suspension of his career to go with one month suspensions he picked up in 2015 and 2004.

Not for the first time his big-race ride attracted criticism down under although Joseph O’Brien, a Cup winner with Rekindling in 2017, said: “I’m more gutted for Frankie than I am for myself. I’ll be back. I don’t know if Frankie is ever going to win this race.”

Given the might of Ballydoyle, it would be dangerous to presume similar fears for O’Brien’s father. Yet having finished runner up to his son two years ago, and also third with Mahler in 2007, Il Paradiso represents another frustrating near miss for O’Brien snr.

‘Staying is his game’

“He didn’t help himself by missing the break,” admitted his representative TJ Comerford afterwards. “Staying is his game and he was only getting going at the end so it was probably unfortunate.”

It was another O'Brien that wound up with the spoils as Vow And Declare's trainer, Danny O'Brien, combined with jockey Craig Williams to supply the first Australian-bred winner of the race in a decade.

Some years ago Flemington-based O’Brien was embroiled in a controversial case involving the prohibited substance cobalt which saw him receive a four-year ban from racing authorities for administering the element. However that was overturned last year by a civil tribunal.

“I was very confident that once we got outside the racing jurisdiction we would be found innocent. We never had any nefarious intent with anything we did,” said the trainer.

Williams saw persistence rewarded with the 42-year-old winning on his 15th cup ride. He missed the 2011 winner Dunaden due to suspension.

“I said to my wife [in 2011] that we’ve won the Melbourne Cup; unfortunately, I was suspended and couldn’t ride Dunaden. When Danny confirmed me on Vow And Decalre I said to my wife again that we’re going to win the Melbourne Cup. I was that confident after the Caulfield Cup,” he said.

The local element proved a timely and popular boost for a race run against a high-profile welfare background that had Australian racing’s showpiece event under some pressure from activist groups.

One of the cup runners, Rostropovich, suffered a fractured pelvis in the race but his injuries were later reported to be not life-threatening.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column