Melbourne Cup back on home soil after Green Moon victory
The 152-year-old Melbourne Cup is back on home soil, after a surprise win by Green Moon in Australia's most famous horse race.
Bred in Ireland but owned and trained in Australia, the victory will be sweet for local horse trainers and racing fans, who have seen the cup go to international entries in recent years.
The six-year-old stallion took the winner's share of the AUD6 million (USD6.2 million) prize money, beating Fiorente second and Jakkalberry third.
Green Moon was ridden by Hong Kong-based Australian jockey Brett Prebble.
The win also marks the fourth time a horse owned by Lloyd Williams, an Australian businessman and property developer, has won the high-stakes contest that is watched by millions across the country.
Green Moon was an early contender but questions emerged over his form after a disappointing seventh place at his last race just over a week ago.
Six of the eight favorites in this year's race were from overseas and were dubbed by Australian media as "international invaders." Last year's winner was Dunaden, a French stallion and another French horse -- Americain -- won the race in 2010.
"There is nothing like winning the Melbourne Cup. The Melbourne cup is Australia," says trainer Mark Kavanagh, whose horse Shocking won in 2009.
"Any other race I don't think it would really matter but the Melbourne Cup is such an Australian icon that it is hard for them to stomach that it might be leaving Australian shores," he told CNN's Winning Post.
Home-grown entries have been overshadowed by foreign contenders as a lucrative prize pot lures horses bred and trained mainly in Europe.
The prize money has become all the more tantalizing in the past few years as the Australian dollar has strengthened against other major currencies, making it worth the $150,000 it costs to transport and stable the horses during their stay down under.
"Well they've got to travel half way across the globe, they've got to settle in and they've got to get used to our dry Australian tracks but at the end of the day there is six million Australian dollars waiting for them so there are plenty of them that are going to have a crack," Kavanagh said before this year's race.
It's hard to overstate the significance of the race in the Australian sporting and social calendar. Imagine the party atmosphere of the Kentucky Derby with the tradition and pageantry of the Grand National and Royal Ascot.
Held at Flemington Racecourse, the race meet attracts some 100,000 punters dressed in their finest hats and formal attire, along with more comical takes on the occasion. It is also watched by millions at bars, homes and outdoor screens across the country.
"There are race meetings, I understand, in other parts of the world. But no-one promotes their race like we do," Robert Doyle, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, told CNN.
"I mean who else has a public holiday for a horse race? We do and we think it's perfectly natural."
The race, part of a week-long meeting, also has a huge economic impact for the city, with millions bet and more spent. Race goers alone are estimated to spend nearly $30 million during the week, while the carnival and other events that accompany it brings in $350 million, Doyle said.
British horse trainer Luca Cumani, who has twice narrowly missed out on winning the cup, says another reason why there are more international entries is because European horses tend to be bred for covering longer distances compared to their Australian counterparts.
However, he says the international horses have their own obstacles to overcome. The animals have to travel for 50 to 60 hours and then face two weeks of quarantine. Quarantine regulations also make it difficult for international trainers to bring in their own food so the horses have to get used to the local cuisine.
"Which is not a help and they suffer from jetlag just the same as people do and they take quite a while to adjust," he told CNN's Winning Post.
Kavanagh, like most Australian trainers, is not particularly sympathetic to the foreign horses' plight, but as long as the prize money remain high, it's likely that entrants will come from far and wide.
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