Vow And Declare has repelled the international invasion to deliver an all-Australian Melbourne Cup victory and a slice of history for jockey Craig Williams.
In his 16th Cup ride and eight years after missing the winning mount on Dunaden through suspension, Williams became just the eighth jockey to claim Australian racing’s ‘big four’ of the Melbourne and Caulfield Cups, Cox Plate and Golden Slipper.
For trainer Danny O’Brien, it was vindication of his fight to clear his name in the long-running cobalt saga that threatened his career.
In a thrilling four-way finish, Vow And Declare ($11), who had raced near the speed throughout, surged again on the line to get the verdict by a head.
Master Of Reality was second past the post but relegated to fourth on protest, elevating Prince Of Arran ($17) to the runner-up stall with Il Paradiso ($15) another nose back.
Williams was thrilled an Australian-bred and owned horse was the one to deliver his longed-for Melbourne Cup.
“To be lucky enough to be associated with an Australian-bred horse as the race is now so international, it’s wow,” Williams said.
“It is very special to be able to win our greatest race.
“It just resonates with everyone. It stops the nation. It’s very special so I’m very thrilled.”
Connections of Vow And Declare did not tie him down to instructions but he had pored over hours of form and had faith in his horse and his own decision-making.
“I went out there with a clean mind, an open book and I was confident in the horse,” Williams said.
“He was so happy and rolling along. I was happy to take up the lead and then I was happy to take a sit.
“I had the horse to deliver and he was awesome.”
O’Brien was not expecting Williams to be as positive as he was on Vow And Declare but said it was a winning move.
Nor was he certain the horse had won in the driving finish.
“But we got the photo and they can’t take it off us now,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien also joins an elite squad of trainers to have prepared the winners of Melbourne’s three feature spring races.
He adds the Melbourne Cup to his Caulfield Cup with Master O’Reilly and Cox Plate with Shamus Award, an achievement O’Brien puts in perspective.
“Someone told me yesterday there has been no trainer win the three of them in the last 15 years and the last guy was Bart Cummings so it’s pretty special to have won all three of them,” he said.
While the winners were all smiles, it was a case of what might have been for the vanquished.
Frankie Dettori has won 250 Group One races around the world but fell agonisingly short at his 17th Melbourne Cup attempt.
To rub salt into the wound, Master Of Reality lost second place on protest and an inconsolable Dettori was hit with a nine-meeting careless riding suspension.
“I want to cry,” Dettori said.
Champion trainer Chris Waller was widely tipped to make a clean sweep of the three richest races in the country after claiming the Everest and Golden Eagle in Sydney.
But favourite Finche fell short, finishing seventh, while stablemate Youngstar was 20th.
Lindsay Park, headed by David Hayes, saddled up three runners but Rostropovich sustained a stress fracture to his pelvis during the race.
He was taken to the University of Melbourne Equine Centre where vets reported the horse to be stable.
The stable’s other runners, one-time favourite Constantinople and Neufbosc, finished 13th and 21st respectively.