Vow and Declare has won Australia’s most prestigious horse race, the Melbourne Cup, giving Australian jockey Craig Williams his first win at the event in 17 attempts.
The Australian-bred horse saw off rivals in a field of 24 to take the Cup, at the annual blockbuster event at Flemington Racecourse.
Trained by Danny O’Brien, Vow and Declare gave Australia a much longed for victory at the 3,200-meter (1.98 mile) race after a decade of foreign winners.
Williams and O’Brien take the top prize of AU$4.4 million ($3 million), according to News.com.au. Total prize money, including trophies, came to a record AU$8 million ($5.5 million) this year.
Always held on the first Tuesday of November, the Melbourne Cup is one of the world’s most revered races and the highlight of a week-long carnival of racing, fashion, food and culture.
This year’s race ended in dramatic fashion following a dispute over the second and third spots resulting in a change in order after an initial photo finish.
A protest lodged against Master of Reality jockey Frankie Dettori alleged that he blocked fourth-place Il Paradiso in the final 200 meters (218 yards). Stewards upheld the protest, meaning Master of Reality was pushed down to fourth place, with third place finisher Prince of Arran promoted to second and Il Paradiso taking third.
Italian Dettori, 48, who was banned for eight race days in Victoria, has never won the Melbourne Cup in an otherwise glittering career.
“I feel like crying,” he told reporters at Flemington.
Veteran jockey Williams came close to winning the three major Melbourne races in 2011, after claiming victory in the Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate. Tuesday marks his first Melbourne Cup win.
“I was lucky enough to sit on Vow And Declare. A credit to Danny O’Brien,” Williams said, according to CNN affiliate Nine News. “It was a privilege to ride him today. We had a difficult barrier draw. The instructions, we trusted him. We know what we can do.”
“Great to be associated with a great horse like this horse … I’m so grateful to be given the opportunity.”
Trainer Joseph O’Brien, son of esteemed Irish handler Aidan O’Brien, won the 2017 Melbourne Cup with Rekindling and he said he was disappointed for Dettori,who was second in .
“I’m more gutted for Frankie than I am for myself. I’ll be back. I don’t know if Frankie is ever going to win this race,” he told The Age.
Flemington, which has hosted the famous race since 1861, welcomed about 81,000 spectators for Melbourne Cup day, which is a public holiday in the state of Victoria. More than 2.5 million were expected to tune in on TV across the country.
The 2018 event contributed a record $309 million in gross economic benefit to the state of Victoria. Of that, $47.9 million was on retail spending including fashion and grooming, according to a study commissioned by organizer the Victoria Racing Club.
Following Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup, Racing Victoria said last-place horse Rostropovich pulled up lame and was transported to a veterinary clinic with a cracked pelvis. Rostropovich is in a stable condition and being closely monitored, according to Nine News.
Animal welfare in the wider Australian horse racing industry has recently come under fresh scrutiny.
A two-year investigation by Australia’s ABC 7.30 TV program released in October alleged that hundreds of race horses were being sent to slaughterhouses and mistreated in contravention of racing rules.
In response to the scandal, Racing Victoria pledged a AU$25 million ($17 million) welfare plan to care for Victorian thoroughbreds that includes a re-homing program, improving traceability of horses, and responsible breeding efforts.