O’Brien: Cliffs of Moher death is sad but incident may have been worse

Trainer hoping for a better experience on Saturday with Latrobe at Flemington Park

The Cliffsofmoher, left, pulls up lame during the Melbourne Cup at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Australia. Photograph: Andy Brownbill/AP

The Cliffsofmoher, left, pulls up lame during the Melbourne Cup at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Australia. Photograph: Andy Brownbill/AP

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Joseph O’Brien will hope for a happier Flemington experience this Saturday when saddling his Irish Derby winner Latrobe in a $2 million Grade One.

The Irishman was a Melbourne Cup hero a year ago after Rekindling headed a famous Irish 1-2-3 in Australia’s most famous race.

But he endured an unhappier time in the early hours of Tuesday morning when Cliffs of Moher, trained by his father, Aidan, was put down after suffering fatal injuries during this year’s Cup.

Last year’s Epsom Derby runner-up appeared to damage a shoulder as the field approached the winning post first time around and was quickly pulled up by Ryan Moore.

At the finish Godolphin’s Cross Counter led home Marmelo and Prince Of Arran to complete a British-based 1-2-3. Rostropovich did best of Aidan O’Brien’s trio in fifth, with the favourite Yucatan finishing lame in 11th.

However it was Cliffs of Moher’s sad fate that dominated much of the aftermath as the Melbourne Cup’s recent injury record was once again thrust into the post-race spotlight.

In 2013 the French-trained Verema had to be put down after suffering an injury during the race.

A year later Japan’s Admire Ratki collapsed from heart failure minutes after finishing. After the same race Araldo was spooked by a flag in the crowd, kicked out, and broke a leg on a fence.

In 2015 the British-trained Red Cadeaux, a triple runner-up in the Melbourne Cup, had to be put down two and a half weeks after the race due to complications from an injury suffered in it.

It is an unusual rate of attrition for a top class flat race and the latest incident has increased pressure on Australian racing with charges levelled against it of animal cruelty and calls in some quarters for the sport to be banned.

O’Brien elected to skip the Melbourne Cup with Latrobe and the colt has instead been targeted at Saturday’s Mckinnon Stakes back at Flemington.

O’Brien represented his father on Cup day and attempted to put Cliffs of Moher’s injuries in context.

Bright sunshine

“Unfortunately these things can happen to a horse galloping around a field at home,” O’Brien told local media. “It’s very sad but it could have been worse. Ryan could have had a fall or someone else could have got injured.”

Racing Victoria’s integrity service manager, Jamie Stier, confirmed a post-mortem would be conducted on Cliffs of Moher to determine if other issues led to the incident.

Although the Melbourne Cup itself was run in bright sunshine, Flemington had seen heavy rain earlier in the day. It provoked some delays to earlier races on the card.   

One local report quoted jockey Beau Martins as describing conditions earlier on the card as “crazy”. He added: “There’s a lot of surface water and I couldn’t see too many metres in front of me.”

Blaming Cliffs of Moher’s injuries on hard ground conditions then seems unlikely.

O’Brien admitted his pre-race ground concerns were for Yucatan’s chances and said: “In Europe whenever there is some juice in the ground he [Yucatan] struggled so it was something we were quite worried about pre-race.”

After the race, vets found Yucatan was lame on his near-foreleg.

O’Brien will have to find a new jockey for Latrobe after his intended partner Hugh Bowman was ruled out with a 35 meeting (one month) ban after finishing runner-up on Marmelo.

This Saturday’s card is also likely to see O’Brien Snr contest the six furlong $1 million Group One VRC Sprint Classic with both US Navy Flag and Spirit Of Valor.

Charlie Appleby is due to saddle Jungle Cat in the Sprint and Blair House in the Mackinnon. Godolphin’s trainer is on a Group One roll with Cross Counter adding to Line Of Duty’s Breeders Cup victory in Kentucky on Friday.

In June, Appleby memorably supplied Sheikh Mohammed with a first Epsom Derby winner in Godolphin blue through Masar and has also ended the ruler of Dubai’s long wait to win the Melbourne Cup.

“For me this is the biggest thing along with the Derby,” Appleby said. “This year has just been one of those amazing years.”

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