By Hans Ebert
Few will ever forget the finish to this year’s Melbourne Cup- the great ride by Kerrin McEvoy to win on Almandin and the spontaneous sportsmanship from Joao Moreira, who had to settle for a heartbreaking second aboard the aptly named Heartbreak City.
That photograph of McEvoy and Moreira crossing the finish line was everything good about racing- two athletes and their equine partners giving their all and respecting each other at the end of what was, corny as it might sound, a Titanic struggle down the Flemington straight.
Moments like these cannot be scripted, but they can be marketed, and with word-of-mouth marketing being the most effective. That race to the wire between man and horse is still being discussed. As my old friend, the legend that is Brent Thomson mentioned, “Not to take anything away from the ride of Kerrin McEvoy, but Joao Moreira really is something special. How many distance races like the Melbourne Cup would he have ridden in before Tuesday?” It’s just a pity that there was no post-race interviews by Sammy Hyland with the two horses involved in that finish. Seriously. These are the times racing can do with Dr Doolittle.
Yesterday, jockey Brenton Avdulla treated those at Flemington to his own one man show during the running of the Group 1 Crown Oaks over 2500 metres. At 121 to 1, Avdulla had mentioned that his ride- the Lee Curtis-trained Lasqueti Spirit- could “stay all day”, but no one was prepared for what transpired.
With the track showing a bias towards runners on the pace, the jockey did the intelligent thing by taking the bull by the horns and his horse to the front. While some of the more fancied runners and 2 to 1 favourite Yankee Rose settled at the back of the field and, one guesses, played a waiting game- waiting for exactly what is the question- Brenton Avdulla picked up the tempo, race caller Greg Miles sounded both bemused and perplexed as Lasqueti Spirit scooted further and further ahead- and away from the pack.
One would like to say the chasing pack, but no one chased. It was quite extraordinary. What had happened? Contagious brain freeze? Asleep At The Wheel? Wrong race. The confusing Flemington track? It took Hugh Bowman and Damien Oliver to succinctly sum things up during the post-race mortem: Brenton Avdulla had simply ridden an intelligent race and the others hadn’t. Or as a former jockey who watched the race put it, “Maybe the others thought the leader would just collapse in a heap. Her breeding certainly didn’t seem to suggest that she could run out that distance. Brenton seemed to know something no one else did- and that included how to read the track, reads the minds of the other riders, and what his horse could give”.
One hopes Michelle Payne was watching that ride by someone she once described as “a little jockey from Sydney”. Maybe she hasn’t heard about what comes in little packages?
As for Brenton Avdulla that win yesterday must have tasted even sweeter when one thinks that instead of riding at Flemington on Melbourne Cup day, he was committed to riding for Godolphin in Sydney. Good things come to those who wait. And with he and Lasqueti Spirit taking out the Group 1 Crown Oaks- did he have to be fined for showing his delight at winning when the second horse was a yawning five lengths behind? Petty stuff- here’s hoping that Brenton Avdulla is now known as Group 1 winning jockey Brenton Avdulla and this leads to more Group 1 opportunities at home and abroad. He’s worked damn hard to get where he is today. It should not stop here. And the odds are that it won’t.
Nice guys don’t always finish last. Sometimes they hit the front and stay and stay and stay there. Then, for good measure, they kick clear leave others in their wake, and take a bow for putting on a great show. You’re not just a pretty face, Brenton Avdulla.