International raiders no match for Vow And Declare at Melbourne Cup
Frankie Dettori handed eight-day ban following post-race protest lodged by stewards
Craig Williams rides Vow and Declare to win the Lexus Melbourne Cup. Photograph: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images
The international raiders were no match for homegrown stayer Vow And Declare, who flew the flag for Australia to win the €5 million Melbourne Cup over 3,200m for trainer Danny O’Brien. It was the first Cup win for champion jockey Craig Williams, who can now add the race to his impressive CV of Group One wins.
Williams produced a brilliant ride in the feature event, leading as the field went past the post for the first time before handing up to Twilight Payment to sit in the box seat, third behind the leader. He saved ground in the final stages and Vow And Declare did the rest, producing a gutsy staying performance to grip on to victory.
Master Of Reality was second past the post for Irish trainer Joseph O’Brien and Italian jockey Frankie Dettori, while Prince Of Arran flashed home to be third – the second time in a row he has filled the placings in the Cup. However, the final finishing positions were changed following a post-race protest, lodged by stewards.
They ruled Master Of Reality laid in towards the fence in the closing stages and blocked the fourth-placed Il Paradiso for a run. Il Paradiso is trained by Aidan O’Brien, the father of Joseph, trainer of Master Of Reality. The protest was upheld, relegating Master Of Reality to fourth and promoting Prince Of Arran to second and Il Paradiso to third.
It also meant an eight-day ban for Dettori to cap a disappointing day. Joseph O’Brien, Master Of Reality’s trainer, told The Age afterwards: “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.”
In a year Racing Victoria were desperate to avoid controversy given heightened attention on horse welfare, Rostropovich was pulled up early and reportedly taken to an equine hospital with a suspected cracked pelvis. “He couldn’t weight bear,” trainer David Hayes said. “But I think with a bit of painkillers, he’s relieved. It’s a sad story, anyway.”
The remaining 23 runners appeared to finish the race in good health, after a spate of horse deaths on Melbourne Cup day over the past five years, including the fatality of The Cliffsofmoher in the 2018 edition.
Runner-up jockey Michael Walker was banned for seven races and fined for excessive use of his whip on Prince of Arran. “I broke the rules that we have in place,” he said. “I’m not one that generally breaks the rules with regards to whip. It’s the Melbourne Cup. I was just throwing everything to see if I could win the race.”
“It’s an amazingly special thing to happen. I really can’t believe it,” O’Brien said post-race. “I feel incredibly blessed to have a horse good enough to be in it and then for him to be ridden so beautifully by Craig. The last 100m he wouldn’t give in, he wouldn’t give in and then put his head down on the line and now we’ve won the Melbourne Cup.”
O’Brien, who trains out of Flemington but has a base at Torquay on Victoria’s surf coast, was full of praise for the 42-year-old Williams. “I left it completely up to Craig and that’s been the winning move,” he said of the tactics. “[WILLIAMS] rolled the dice like he does. He’s an outstanding jockey. He wasn’t afraid to try something different than what the [SPEED]map probably said and ultimately it’s been the winning move.”
More than 90,000 racegoers were at the Flemington racecourse to cheer on Vow And Declare, who started as the fourth favourite in the race. Williams, a shoo-in to be a Hall of Fame jockey, is one of only a handful of jockeys to have completed the Grand Slam of Australian racing – the Golden Slipper, Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup.
His ride on Vow And Declare will be replayed for years to come as he hugged the fence to save the most ground in the race.
“Tremendous training effort from Danny O’Brien and his team,” Williams said. “I feel very privileged. I grew up watching races, dreamt of these occasions like this but I can’t do it without my team around me. Vow And Declare gave me a wonderful ride. I wasn’t given any instructions. I want to savour the moment. Thanks to all the people who turned out today.”