The win provided another chapter in the folklore of Australia’s greatest horse race as Oliver brought the Dermot Weld-trained gelding to an unforgettable victory in the US$2.3m race.
“I wish my brother was still here to see this,” said the jockey. Oliver carried the hopes and wagers of the nation following Jason’s death. Oliver’s father also died in a race fall in the early 1970s.
“I know you’re up there watching, Jase, and this one’s for you,” said Oliver at the Cup presentation, his voice breaking with emotion.
Media Puzzle’s dominating victory made it two wins in the staying classic for trainer Weld, who won the race in 1993 with Vintage Crop.
Weld paid tribute to his jockey and the poignancy of the moment.
“Damien gave us such an expert ride and I’m thrilled for him after all the desperate problems he’s had,” said Weld.
“My son Mark said it all last week there are so many more important things than horse racing, things like human life and death and I’m so very pleased for Damien having had such a sad loss.”
Weld said he thought Media Puzzle, the son of Theatrical, would win him another Cup two years ago after it ran fourth in the Doncaster St Leger.
“Unfortunately, he then fractured his pelvis quite badly and he had to sit in a box for four and half months,” he said.
Vinnie Roe was heavily backed into 9-2 favourite on course and put up a sensational performance to run fourth after racing wide throughout, a performance Weld described as “a wonderful race” for a four-year old.
“This has been one those special moments in life,” said Weld.
“I was so thrilled turning for home to see my two horses fighting out a Melbourne Cup.
“I’m just so proud to win this race for (owners) Michael Smurfit and Don Keough.”
Media Puzzle had been the main pre-race fancy for the event since easily winning the provincial Geelong Cup three weeks ago and he along with Vinnie Roe were in an ideal position throughout the two-mile contest as Hatha Anna, one of three runners for Godolphin, and Sandmason battled it out in front for the lead.
It was Vinnie Roe and Pat Smullen who appeared to be going slightly the better straightening up but they had no answer when Oliver gave Media Puzzle the office. He stretched clear in tremendous style as Vinnie Roe’s welter burden began to tell and was good value for the winning margin of two lengths and a long neck.
Frankie Dettori on Pugin also travelled well just off the leaders but faded disappointingly when the field made the turn for home, eventually finishing 18th, 23 lengths behind the winner. It was left to Beekeeper (9-1) to carry the flag for the Dubai stable, and with local jockey Kerrin McEvoy aboard, he ran on strongly for third, a neck behind the fast finishing second placer, Mr. Prudent (40-1), which was the best run from the local contingent.
Godolphin trainer, Saeed Bin Suroor, said he would bring “better horses” back next year, and would take a leaf out of Dermot Weld’s book and give his horses a few runs in Australia leading up to the race.
Of the other international runners, Jardines Lookout (30-1) finished seventh but trainer Alan Jarvis was “very disappointed,” with local rider Patrick Payne’s ride.
“I told him we needed to be up on the pace but there he was with only two behind him at the halfway mark, but we’ll return,” he said.
But the day belonged to Oliver, who was gracious and composed in victory. “The perspective can be lost sometimes, and it’s my brother who lost his life, and I’d give all this back right now to have him back with me,” he said. “But I’m very happy to have won this today and I’m sure the whole family back in Perth will be very happy.”
He returns to Perth today for his brother’s funeral.