In 1993, three years before google and 11 years before Facebook, a Melbourne Cup revolution began.
Planned in Ireland by a racing mastermind and carried out at Flemington by a horse whose life had been devoted to the mission for a couple of years, it changed the appearance, the sound and the feel of Australia’s greatest race.
The Melbourne Cup had traditionally attracted the best stayers from Australia, New Zealand and the Bart Cummings stable.
Although it had tempted a few from further afield, they were a novelty.
They weren’t a threat. Not a serious one anyway.
The Cup was still mostly about Bart, even when he didn’t win it.
But in 1993, Vintage Crop arrived from Ireland and changed everything.
Having been well beaten over hurdles a few months earlier, his Flat form in Ireland was good but meant little to Aussie punters who hadn’t seen him in the flesh.
The popular thinking was that it was too difficult for a horse to travel all that way, make its Australian debut in a Melbourne Cup and win.
But few had reckoned on the genius of Dermot Weld.
One of Ireland’s most successful horseman, Weld’s training performance would have done Cummings proud.
In an era when many Cup winners had their final lead-up race three days before the main event, Vintage Crop hadn’t raced for six weeks, he’d supposedly lost a lot of weight and was doing poorly in quarantine.
But he won, and the revolution was underway.
Some thought it was the beginning of the end for Australians in Australia’s most famous race, a portent of things to come.
But it would be nine years before another overseas-trained galloper was able to win it.
And again the maestro was Weld.
Not only did he celebrate his second Melbourne Cup success with Media Puzzle, he also claimed fourth prize with race favourite Vinnie Roe.
However, his achievement was overshadowed by an emotion-charged Damien Oliver who steered the Irish gelding to victory just a week after his brother Jason was killed in a barrier trial fall in Perth.
The international raiders were bit players in the three years that followed as Makybe Diva made history with her triple treat of victories.
If Cummings was the Cups King, she was the Queen.
In the absence of the then retired Makybe Diva, the Japanese struck a blow in 2006 when Delta Blues and Pop Rock ran the quinella.
But the anticipated dominance of the Japanese didn’t eventuate when quarantine restrictions and red tape stopped them in their tracks.
Two years ago, the French flexed their muscle with the historic win of Americain.
Dunaden showed it was no fluke when he turned in a similarly outstanding performance to give the French successive wins last year.
Both are back for another shot in 2012.
So is Weld.
In a Cup field bursting with internationals, Weld will saddle up Galileo’s Choice.
His lead-up form is reminiscent of Vintage Crop’s in that he failed over the jumps earlier this year before cementing his trip to Australia with a couple of stakes victories on the Flat in Ireland.
Where Vintage Crop tackled the Melbourne Cup at his 16th start, Galileo’s Choice will tackle it at his 17th, both without a local lead-up run.
Of the modern-day trainers, only Bart (12 wins) and Lee Freedman (five wins) have tasted more Cup success than Weld.
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