MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian stayer Vow and Declare won the 159th running of the Melbourne Cup by a neck at Flemington racecourse on Tuesday with the race overshadowed by a stewards protest and a horse pulling up lame with a cracked pelvis.
The Danny O’Brien-trained gelding needed a last desperate kick in the final meters to seal the A$8 million ($5.52 million) handicap and give jockey Craig Williams his maiden Melbourne Cup triumph after more than a decade of trying.
Master of Reality, ridden by Frankie Dettori, crossed second in a photo finish with Prince of Arran but was later demoted to fourth after a protest for interference in the closing stretch.
Stewards found the Aidan O’Brien-trained Master of Reality had impeded Il Paradiso, the entrant prepared by the Irish trainer’s son Joseph.
Prince of Arran was promoted to second and Il Paradiso lifted to third.
With the “race that stops the nation” dominated by international entrants over the past decade, the victory of locally-bred and prepared Vow and Declare was a welcome surprise for the home racing industry.
“Not only is this our greatest race that stops a nation, as you can see by the form-book, it’s targeted by horses from all around the world and we did it today with an Australian horse,” an emotional Williams said at the trophy ceremony.
In 2011, Williams had been due to ride eventual winner Dunaden but had to make way for Christophe Lemaire because of a suspension for careless riding at an earlier meeting.
Two years later, he ran third on Mount Athos.
“I was just lucky enough to sit on Vow and Declare,” said the overjoyed 42-year-old father-of-four.
“It was a privilege to ride him today. It’s been great to be associated with a great horse.”
It was also a special day for Danny O’Brien, who was suspended for four years in 2014 after a number of his horses tested positive for the banned substance cobalt.
He fought to clear his name and had the ban overturned on appeal in 2017.
“It’s an amazing win, a special thing to happen,” he said.
“I really can’t believe it, I just feel incredibly blessed to have a horse good enough to be in it.
“The last 100 (meters) he just wouldn’t give in.”
While a festive public holiday crowd of about 100,000 soaked up the spring sunshine, the Cup ran amid heated debate about animal welfare following an investigative report into the mistreatment of retired racehorses and the alleged slaughter of hundreds of thoroughbreds at local abattoirs.
The David Hayes-trained Rostropovich pulled up lame following the race with a cracked pelvis and was taken to an equine clinic for inspection by vets.
A bleak diagnosis for Rostropovich would heap further pressure on the industry. Since 2013, six horses have died due to race-related complications from running on Melbourne Cup day.
In last year’s race won by Cross Counter, Aidan O’Brien-trained The Cliffsofmoher was put down on the track after vets found the five-year-old stallion had broken a shoulder.
Animal rights advocates called for a ban on thoroughbred racing at a protest party featuring live music and horse costumes at a park outside the gates at Flemington on Tuesday.
Prince of Arran jockey Michael Walker later received a seven-meeting ban and a fine for excessive whip use on his mount.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford