Willie Mullins’s Simenon all set to claim ‘race that stops a nation’
Twenty years since Vintage Crop defied all precedent to win Australia’s most coveted sporting prize
Willie Mullins’ Simenon during a trackwork at Flemington racecourse in Melbourne, Australia. Photograph: Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images
It’s 10 years since Willie Mullins’s first attempt to win the Melbourne Cup provoked “Irish joke” headlines Down Under but the master-trainer hopes he will have a last laugh in the early hours of tomorrow morning when Simenon lines up in the world-famous “race that stops a nation.”
It is 20 years since Vintage Crop defied all precedent to win Australia’s most coveted sporting prize for Dermot Weld and the ground-breaking reverberations of that success in the two decades since have transformed a race from a relatively parochial affair into a truly international extravaganza.
Weld subsequently won the Cup again with Media Puzzle in 2002 while both France and Japan have also struck since on the famous first Tuesday in November date at Flemington.
What the last two decades of foreign intervention has also resulted in is a realisation by local horse-players that raiding Europe for potential Cup horses is their best option of keeping the prize at home so while a strong squad of European trained horses have again made the trip this year, the rest of the field is packed with horses formerly based in the Northern Hemisphere.
Despite the global reach, there could still be a wonderful synchronicity to the 20th anniversary of Vintage Crop’s win when the gates open at 4am tomorrow morning.
Vintage Crop was famously dismissed as a hurdler by the Aussies 20 years ago but they aren’t making the same mistake about Simenon, also a dual-purpose operator, but a horse capable of finishing second in the Ascot Gold Cup last June. He is certainly a different proposition to Holy Orders, the horse Mullins brought to Melbourne in 2003, who earned national notoriety in Australia for refusing to gallop in his pre-race workouts.
Holy Orders ignominiously finished out of the money but Simenon’s challenge is deadly serious with Mullins having targeted the Cup for some time, getting an encouraging warm-up into the horse in Caulfield, and securing a perfect slot at the bottom of the handicap.
That Richard Hughes flies in from America having won his first Breeders’ Cup race, and set to do his very lightest weight, appears to be only adding to confidence in the Irish horse’s chance of giving Ireland’s champion trainer his most famous win yet on the flat.
A stall 12 draw is certainly no impediment to Simenon’s chance and Mullins told local reporters: “We’re happy with the draw and everything has gone to plan. We just need a bit of luck in running now.”