One of the world’s biggest racing events – the Melbourne Cup – is just around the corner, with the race that stops a nation going off on Tuesday, November 1st. It is, of course, the pinnacle of Australian racing, one of those historic races that trainers and jockeys dream about winning, and a race where English and Irish runners have excelled in recent years. Of course, it’s no easy race to win, and it’s one of those races where everything must fall into place. As with all elite sporting events that represent the highest level of sport, 99% of stuff going right is often not enough.
The combined team of trainer, jockey and runner is, of course, part of that formula for success. And it’s interesting to note that the current favourite in the Melbourne Cup odds, Deauville Legend, has been paired with Kerrin McEvoy. It is clear that Deauville Legend’s trainer, Newmarket-based James Ferguson, is opting for an experienced pair of hands, perhaps the safest option available. McEvoy is a three-time winner of the Melbourne Cup, and he knows every blade of grass at Flemington. Who better to handle the relatively inexperienced Deauville Legend as he makes his debut on Australian soil?
For context, Deauville Legend edged into the top of the betting markets over the European summer months. Big victories at York in the Great Voltigeur and Newmarket were punctuated by big performances when finishing runner-up at Royal Ascot and Goodwood. It was a big summer for Deauville Legend, so connections decided for a trip Down Under to tackle the biggest event Australia has to offer.
Ferguson, who is close friends with McEvoy, has perhaps been inspired by a similarly astute move by trainer Charlie Appleby in 2018. Cross Counter, who had an eerily similar summer of 2018 to the summer just gone by for Deauville Legend, decided to use the services of McEvoy in the 2018 Melbourne Cup. Cross Counter had been ridden with success by William Buick, lately crowned champion jockey of 2022, and no stranger to international success, in the past, but he plumped for the local knowledge and experience of McEvoy. It worked a treat, with Cross Counter becoming the first British-trained winner of the world’s most valuable staying race.
Cross Counter wins the 2018 Melbourne Cup. The first British-trained horse to do so. Can Deauville Legend do the same with Kerrin McEvoy in the saddle? Photo via https://twitter.com/BBCSport/status/1059718788097236992/photo/1
Can Ferguson repeat the trick? It’s difficult to say. The Melbourne Cup isn’t an easy race to win, and it often makes a mockery of the bookies’ choice of ante-post favourites. So, if we are going by raw statistics, having Deauville Legend at the top of the betting markets will count for very little on Tuesday week. Still, Ferguson has handed the reins to the right man for the job, if we are to go by McEvoy’s previous successes in delivering on new partnerships at the first time of asking.
Of course, in a perfect world, Ferguson would be watching Deauville Legend line up for the Melbourne Cup with a jockey who has ridden the horse several times before. Racing history is littered with examples of these partnerships where records tumble and horse and rider are intertwined. Think of the great Frankel had Tom Queally in the saddle for all 14 of his races. Even today, in national hunt racing we see the incredible story being told of Honeysuckle and Irish jockey Rachael Blackmore, who have yet to taste defeat together.
Yes, we might think that Frankel would still have been the greatest ever and enjoyed that unblemished record should the jockey have changed from time to time, but you also never know. As we said earlier, in the biggest races in the world, 99% is often not good enough. And to dismiss the partnership between horse and jockey is to dismiss the incredible talents of some of the world’s best riders.
In that respect, Ferguson and the horse’s owners might be taking a bit of a gamble to send Deauville Legend down to Australia to ride under someone who has not raced competitively with his charge before. But it is a calculated risk, sending the 3yo to Australia to partner up with a man who has seen everything – and won everything – in Australian racing.
Let’s see if the bet pays off on the biggest race day in the Australian calendar.