Why the Melbourne Cup Carnival Still Has the Magic

Tara Madgwick - Sunday November 10

Sydney can invent as many new $1million races as it likes, but at the end of the day there is only one Melbourne Cup Carnival and it’s the best race meeting in the Southern Hemisphere rivalled only on the world stage by Royal Ascot, so what made it great this year?

I was a no show this year, which is nothing unusual and given the horrendous weather, largely cold and wet, so were plenty of others.

Nothing sinister in that… racing might have some issues to face, but it’s not going anywhere and bad weather is not something you can change, only deal with year to year.

So from my view point at home on the couch, these were the highlights.

1/ An Aussie Cup – It might be 10 years since Shocking gave us an Aussie bred, owned and trained Cup winner, but Vow and Declare proved it can still be done right here at home. Owned by normal people (by that I mean not mega rich) that live in Queensland, Vow and Declare was retained to race by his breeder Paul Lanskey and after passing in at the Inglis Classic Yearling Sale shy of a $60,000 reserve was retained to race.


Vow and Declare proves the Australian bred stayer is alive and well

He was foaled and raised at Kitchwin Hills in the Hunter Valley, so Australia’s horse capital is a Melbourne Cup nursery after all.

2/ The Staying Sire – Coolmore shuttler Declaration of War (USA) came to Australia for just two seasons and among those two crops of foals are Melbourne Cup winner Vow and Declare, this year’s Victoria Derby winner Warning and Queensland Oaks winner Winning Ways.

Declaration of War - a surprise sire of stayers

Now, Declaration of War is by one of the world’s best sires in Danzig stallion War Front, but he’s largely a speed influence, whose 21 Group I winners includes only one that was successful at 2400m and that was Helene Super Star, who won his G1 in the Champions and Chater Cup in Hong Kong.

Declaration of War was not promoted to be or thought to be a staying sire, yet his ability to get stayers is unquestionable. To get one Group I winner at a long distance trip is an anomaly we see a lot, to get three is no fluke and what the Japanese can do with his stock now he is domiciled there will be interesting to see unfold.

The real question is did we ever see the best of Declaration of War as a racehorse? He did win two Group I races but was never tried beyond 2100 metres.

3/ Juveniles - On Cup Eve I had a quick look at the pedigrees for the Group III VRC Ottawa Stakes and one jumped straight off the page, so much so I backed her in the morning well before the races started and then went about my day coming in to watch the races as they walked into the yard.

A homebred for Shadwell, Aryaaf is by Epaulette from a family packed with two year-old stakes-winners and she is a three-quarter sister-in-blood to a filly called Khulaasa that was also a stakes-winner at two.

Epaulette filly Aryaaf wins the G3 Ottawa Stakes

I was dismayed to find Aryaaf was small in stature and lacked the polish of some of the others with the commentary team all giving her a wide berth and co-trainer David Hayes declaring in the pre-race interview she was nothing special.

I’m thinking there goes my $20, but at the furlong, Aryaaf’s pedigree kicked in and despite racing greenly she ran over the top of them and then ran away from them to win by a length and three-quarters.

She may never win another race, but Arayaaf has now done what her pedigree said she would, which is win a stakes race at two.

4/ Bred to Win the Oaks – Another horse that did exactly what she was bred to is VRC Oaks winner Miami Bound.

Her mum Arapaho Miss won the VRC Oaks in 2007 and when her current owner Gerry Harvey decided to send her to his French Derby winning sire Reliable Man (FR) he was no doubt thinking the result would be classic success and it is. Might not work every time, but once is enough.


Miami Bound is by a Derby winner from an Oaks Winner

Quite often we see outstanding staying mares bred to speed stallions to produce some pretty average results. Apples and oranges are both great, but an apple mixed with an orange not so good.

5/ New Faces – The Cup coverage without Bruce McAvaney was a new experience. Switching between channels on Derby Day and having Bruce in Sydney covering the inaugural $7.5 million Golden Eagle at Rosehill was doing my head in.

Bruce McAvaney was at Rosehill on Derby Day for the Golden Eagle - image VRC

We all love Bruce and it’s not the same without him, but the reality is the Cup will outlive us all and new faces are the way forward.

Love the input of Johnny Murtagh on the internationals in the Cup, he told it like it was, the Simon Cowell of the mounting yard, Magic Wand was top class, but wouldn’t stay and Constantinople was not genuine. There was two to cross off your trifecta and he was right.

6/ Magic Wand Makes History – The Group I VRC LKS Mackinnon Stakes was one of the traditional Melbourne Cup lead ups in past years, but with the internationalization of the Cup and different training techniques the race was losing relevance and so was switched to the last day of the carnival, with the one mile Cantala Stakes which was previously on the last day now moved to the first.

Team Coolmore took an innovative decision to back Magic Wand up from her brave Melbourne Cup tenth to run in the Mackinnon four days later and her class told the story.

Magic Wand beats a couple of superstars in Melody Belle and Hartnell

This five year-old daughter of Galileo had never won a Group I race, although had placed in seven of them before last Saturday and was also fourth in the Cox Plate, so she was deserving of the win.

Plenty of horses over the years have contested the Cox Plate , Mackinnon and Cup, but never in the order Magic Wand has.

7/ Nature Strip – His own worst enemy at times, Nicconi’s brilliant sprinting son Nature Strip pulled out a career defining performance to win the Group I VRC Darley Sprint Classic proving the genius of his trainer Chris Waller and rider James McDonald, who always believed he would run the 1200 metres strongly when the cards all fell into place.


Nature Strip finally did what his fans always believed he could

The five year-old was in a class of his own and if he can replicate that sort of effort now he has worked out how to do it, Nature Strip will be the best sprinter in the country for quite a while to come.

His connections harbour dreams of Royal Ascot and Nature Strip appeals as a great candidate to emulate the success of past Australian Royal Ascot sprint heroes such as Choisir, Takeover Target, Miss Andretti, Scenic Blast, Starspangledbanner, Black Caviar and Merchant Navy.

All race images by Grant Courtney.


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