MELBOURNE (Reuters) - German raider Protectionist timed his finishing burst to perfection to win the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday, but the race was overshadowed by the death of two horses including favourite Admire Rakti, who collapsed and died after finishing last.
Araldo, who finished seventh in the A$6.2 million ($5.38 million) race, was later euthanised after injuring its hind leg in a freak accident after the race.
The deaths at the “race that stops a nation” are sure to reignite the debate over the welfare of horses in the sport.
With another bumper crowd packed into Flemington Racecourse, Protectionist was boxed in for much of the gruelling 3,200 metre handicap but stormed down the final straight to win by four lengths, giving Germany its first winner in 154 runnings of the Cup.
“He’s very easy,” English jockey Ryan Moore said of the 7-1 shot in a trackside interview. “Very good horse with very strong pace. Once he got the space, he’s amazing.”
Protectionist’s success was the third for a European horse in the last five years after Americain (2010) and Dunaden (2011) and will not ease concerns among local trainers about “foreign” raids on Australia’s top silverware.
English nine-year-old Red Cadeaux (20-1) was second for the third time in Australia’s most famous race after 2011 and 2013, while New Zealand-trained Who Shot Thebarman (16-1) came in third.
Irish mare My Ambivalent had overhauled Admire Rakti over the first few hundred yards and set the pace for much of the race before Red Cadeaux took the lead coming off the final bend.
Protectionist had found its way through the field by now, though, and once the five-year-old stallion hit the front he was never going to be caught.
“We have had great success all over the planet but this is the biggest of all,” said trainer Andreas Wohler.
”(Moore) was so patient, he couldn’t have the position he wanted to have but he was so patient and when he came around the last bend he just needed the right gap. Ryan is a superstar.
“It’s unbelievable. Later when we think about it, it’s a moment in your life that you won’t forget.”
Japanese-trained Admire Rakti, the 5-1 favourite and an impressive winner of the Caulfield Cup last month, had faded badly over the last few furlongs.
Carrying the top weight of 58.5kg, the horse was clearly agitated after the race and his stall was soon covered in a protective screen.
“The favourite Admire Rakti on return to the stalls after the race has collapsed and died,” Racing Victoria chief steward Terry Bailey told reporters.
“Our vets are on hand and the horse will undergo an autopsy. We will have to await those results for the cause of the death.”
His death followed that of French mare Verema, who was put down after snapping a lower leg bone during the race last year.
Araldo was taken to a nearby veterinary hospital where he underwent X-rays to determine the extent of an injury to one of his hind legs.
The Mike Moroney-trained stayer, who had finished seventh, was spooked on his way back to the mounting yard when a spectator waved a flag at him, kicking out at a fence and injuring the limb.
“It is with sadness that we confirm that Araldo has had to be humanely euthanised as a result of the injury it suffered in a freak accident following the Emirates Melbourne Cup,” Brian Stewart, Racing Victoria head of veterinary and equine welfare, said in a statement.
”The horse received immediate veterinary care and was transported to the University of Melbourne Veterinary Hospital, however, sadly the fracture in its pastern was not repairable.
“The owners made the decision to humanely euthanise Araldo in the best interests of the horse.”
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) said it was a “tragic outcome” for the horses and called for a “full and transparent investigation” into both incidents.
“Events like these are a stark reminder to the community of the real risks to horses associated with racing,” it said in a statement.
“Sadly, injury and death are the price some horses pay for our entertainment in a sport that puts intense pressure on animals to perform to the limits of their endurance.”
Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by Greg Stutchbury/Peter Rutherford