While the winner, Fiorente, used to be trained in Newmarket by Michael Stoute and his trainer was born in Scotland, Gai Waterhouse is very much woven into the fabric of Australian racing and her first Cup success was a popular result Down Under.
As much as the nine-strong European challenge was reckoned to be the strongest ever assembled, in the end Fiorente was the most obvious candidate as he was runner-up on his debut for Waterhouse 12 months ago and went off favourite.
Ed Dunlop’s Red Cadeaux, beaten a nose in the 2011 Cup, had largely looked a shadow of his former self this season but again came alive on a scorching afternoon at the metropolitan track, bursting into the lead turning for home under Gerald Mosse and sticking his neck out as battle commenced.
Fiorente was starting to gather a head of steam himself under now three-time winner Damien Oliver and although the pair were tied together through the final furlong, he always seemed to have the edge and hit the line just under a length in front of Red Cadeaux.
Luca Cumani’s Mount Athos ran a huge race as jockey Craig Williams weaved his magic to make it to the inside from tricky stall 22, while Willie Mullins’ hope Simenon held on for fourth and Ryan Moore snatched fifth on the Marco Botti-trained Dandino.
There was sadness as French filly Verema had to be put down after breaking her leg on the back straight and Michael Owen’s beloved Brown Panther, who had been prominent until fading to eighth, was struck into during the race but the injury was not found to be serious.
Dunlop said: “I was so disappointed with his last run in Ireland and I was calling this his ’zimmer frame’ tour, but as soon as he gets on a plane he’s a different horse.
“It was as good a ride as you’ll get without winning the Melbourne Cup and he has run as well, if not better, than when he was second two years ago. I’m so proud of him.
“He’ll go to Japan and Hong Kong again, and maybe he could still come back next year.”
Of Brown Panther, Owen tweeted: “Scan has come back clear. Only superficial gash that requires stitches. We live to fight another day!”
Sydney-based Waterhouse, who once appeared in an episode of Doctor Who, has had an occasionally colourful career but remains an Australian institution.
“Everyone who is a trainer wants to win the majors and the major staying racing in Australia is the Melbourne Cup so it ticks that off the bucket list,” she said.
“It’s a burning desire, so today was fantastic. I knew I had a very good horse and he was trained for the occasion.
“Everyone that comes up to me, all the little people, that wish me luck, I get such a kick out of it and I want to thank them. I’ve got to do it again now, haven’t I?”
Waterhouse was asked if Royal Ascot could be on the agenda.
“I’d like to go,” she said. “Both horses (French import Tres Blue was 22nd) could easily come back to Europe. Tres Blue was just a bit new to it all.”
Oliver’s last triumph had been on Dermot Weld’s Media Puzzle in 2002, just a week after the tragic death of his brother Jason. One of the biggest names in the sport had only quite recently returned form a lengthy ban for betting on a rival horse. “Nothing is a given in this game but I was determined to work hard when I came back and I’ve been very fortunate that someone like Gai got behind me and what a great honour to win her first Melbourne Cup for her,” he said.
“It was a bit like having a Christmas present and not being able to open it because I’ve been really excited about riding this horse and trying to keep a lid on it,” he said.
“I knew I had Red Cadeaux still in front of me and I knew he was going to take me a fair way, but when you’re in front that last 200 metres seems to take forever.”
Cumani has thrown everything he has at the race but was only placed yet again, and owner Dr Marwan Koukash said: “With a better draw I think we would have won. We’ll try again next year with this horse and possibly one more.”
Mullins said of Simenon: “There are no excuses, everything went right and we were just beaten by better horses on the day.
“I’d have no problem coming back, and hopefully we’ll have another to come over with him. We could still look at the Japan Cup and Hong Kong Vase.”
Dandino, who lost his place mid-race before coming with a renewed challenge in the straight, will follow Simenon to Sha Tin, while Mikel Delzangles felt the 2011 winner Dunaden was “slightly outpaced with that big weight” en-route to 11th.