Legendary Irish trainer Aiden O’Brien came within a whisker of clinching his first Melbourne Cup victory this week but was outdone by his 24-year-old son. Joseph O’Brien only started training horses last year but has already achieved a feat that has escaped his father for decades after Rekindling romped to victory in the $6.2 million feature. O’Brien senior broke the world record this year for the most Group 1 victories any trainer has ever claimed in a season, but his quest for the Melbourne Cup goes on.
Irish trainers claimed a 1-2-3 in the race that stops a nation and nine of the first 11 horses to finish were from outside of Australia. That is sure to be a huge talking point in the days ahead, but one Victorian man could not care one bit. Dominic Clemente, from Mill Park, won a cool $1 million by scooping TAB’s Cup Millionaire Promotion. He was selected at random for his $5 each-way flutter on Land of Plenty, who finished second in race three at Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day. Clemente was then given the opportunity to predict who would win the Cup and, with $1 million at stake, he correctly opted for Rekindling.
It was a thrilling race that saw Johannes Vermeer, trained by O’Brien senior, seize the lead from favourite Marmelo with 200m to go. He looked bound for glory but Rekindling surged through the chasing pack and was just a neck behind heading into the final 100m. They went stride for stride on the home straight but Rekindling was just too strong and claimed victory by half a length. O’Brien senior was gracious enough to call it “the perfect result”, declaring that he could not be happier, while the younger O’Brien seemed stunned in the post-race interview.
But nobody was as happy as Clemente, who said: “I’m getting loose tonight!” He started the day working a concreting job and felt crook, so he went home, placed a couple of bets and lay down for some rest. The call to say he had been selected for a shot at the jackpot came as a shock, but he had already laid a $100 wager on Rekindling, so he knew which runner to pick. His bet was placed at odds of $41, so he pocketed $4,100, just in case the $1 million was not enough in a day’s work. “It’s unbelievable, absolutely life-changing,” he said.
It was another day to forget for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, whose airline stumps up the prize money. The sole runner from his Godolphin stable, Hartnell, came 21st in the field of 23, and he is still without a Melbourne victory, despite investing millions of dollars over the years in a bid to find a winner. There were plenty of happy owners on the day, however, and not least Lloyd Williams, who claimed a sixth Melbourne Cup win when Rekindling crossed the line.
More than 90,000 fans packed into Flemington for the big day and they were treated to some fantastic drama. Gai Waterhouse’s impressive filly Setsuna kicked the day off in style by clinching a Golden Slipper campaign with a dominant victory in the G3 Ottawa Stakes. Next up was the TAB Trophy and Darren Weir’s Tahanee beat favourite Invincibella by a length and a half. Dollar for Dollar landed a win for Tony McEvoy and top South Australian jockey Jamie Kah in the Lavazza Short Black. McEvoy said of Kah: “Jamie, she shows she can match with all the big boys. My horses love her and that makes me love her as well.”
Hong Kong’s champion jockey Joao Moreira suffered a bad fall in race 4, the Ronald McDonald Plate, and was ruled out of the Melbourne Cup after limping back to the jockeys’ room. Fanatic finished ahead of Sherlock Holmes in that race, but Moreira’s fall put a dampener on proceedings. Chris Symons, who won race 5, the Flemington Fling, aboard Prezado, said the jockeys’ room was distraught after watching the incident. But the show must always go on and Waterhouse’s day became even better when Our Crown Mistress earned a narrow victory over Luqyaa in the Lexus Hybrid Plate. Waterhouse is enjoying a strong season and his charges are worth keeping an eye on in all the latest horse racing odds.
Symons also scored another win in race 8, the James Boag’s Premium Stakes, on top of Kiwi horse Odeon, who edged out Life Less Bullet. Ocean Embers won the penultimate race of Melbourne Cup Day, the 1200m MSS Security Sprint, and Pedrena wrapped up proceedings by holding off a spirited challenge from Cool Passion in the final 100m to claim the Hong Kong Jockey Club Stakes.
But ultimately the day belonged to Rekindling, Williams and O’Brien junior. Williams said: “I have been telling anyone who will listen to me that Joseph will be the leading trainer in the world in years to come. His father needs to watch out. You have just seen the start of an amazing career kick off right here in Melbourne. He’s an absolutely extraordinary young man and this is an amazing achievement.”
Author bio Martin Green is an experienced horse racing correspondent and tipster and has been covering the Melbourne Cup for many years.