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MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Riding last year's favorite in the Melbourne Cup, Australia's oldest and most prestigious thoroughbred race, should have been a thrill for local jockey Zac Purton but ended up a nightmare when Admire Rakti died minutes after the finish.
The Japanese-trained horse was the clear favorite at 5/1 for the grueling 3,200 meters handicap at Flemington Racecourse but it wasn't long into the race that Purton felt something was amiss.
Weeks before, he had enjoyed a great ride on Admire Rakti, the bay stallion storming home to win the leadup Caulfield Cup over 2,400 meters.
Saddled with the top weight of 58.5 kg at Flemington, Admire Rakti faded badly over the last 600 meters in the Melbourne Cup, finishing last of the 22 entrants.
Minutes after the race, he died of a heart attack in a stall, casting a pall over a bumper public holiday crowd at the meeting.
Admire Rakti was one of two horses to die after the race, with seventh-placed Araldo euthanized after suffering an injury to his leg when spooked by a fan on the way to the stalls.
Hong Kong-based Purton said he had been haunted by Admire Rakti's sudden death.
"Because you have the whole build-up to the race -- I was riding the favorite in it -- and then to hear what happened and see the vision splashed all over the news, it was just really, really sad," he told local media in the leadup to Tuesday's 155th running of the 'race that stops a nation'.
"It was probably one of the -- I don't know what word to use -- it left me feeling very empty."
Purton will saddle up again on the race favorite, another Japanese-trained stayer called Fame Game, who bookmakers rate a 5/2 chance.
Fame Game has drawn barrier 12, a favorable position in the middle of the 24-entrant field, after raising eyebrows with a barnstorming finish at the Caulfield Cup, in which he was last into the final straight before crossing sixth.
"He's not just the best horse, he's clearly the best horse," Purton said.
"His best form is over a longer distance, he does prefer big tracks.
"(A win) is never going to change what happened and that's always going to be with me, but hopefully we can atone for it have a little bit more luck this time."
Editing by Andrew Both