Efficient bounced back to winning form to deny Purple Moon an historic win in a thrilling finish to the Emirates Melbourne Cup at Flemington.
Luca Cumani’s challenger looked set to claim a first British win in the Australian feature when hitting the front just over a furlong out, but the Graeme Rogerson-trained winner came with a telling late run under Michael Rodd.
Aidan O’Brien’s Mahler raced up with the pace throughout and kept on well to claim third.
Rodd, who was landing the biggest success of his career, said: “I just won the Melbourne Cup – this is just unbelievable, to do it on this little horse.”
The Amanda Perrett-trained Tungsten Strike took up a prominent position for Darryll Holland, setting the early pace while Mahler settled on his heels for Stephen Baster.
That pair, along with Sculptor, disputed the lead until Baster decided to make his move turning for home as Tungsten Strike dropped away.
Mahler pulled a couple of lengths clear but Damien Oliver was just starting to get serious with Purple Moon, who had travelled well in the chasing pack.
Cumani’s runner cruised through to take it up over a furlong out and soon had the measure of Mahler.
However, Rodd conjured an extra effort from last year’s Victoria Derby winner Efficient and the four-year-old thundered down the outside to shade Purple Moon on the line.
Efficient had not won since his Derby triumph and he was a late withdrawal from last year’s Cup on the morning of the race.
Owner Williams, who was registering a third win in the race, was watching at home and said: “(We’re) absolutely delighted here, we’ve got a great team out there who put this together.
“I don’t know how I’d handle it out there, but I just congratulate all my team - we’ve got 70 odd people that work in our stable and they’ve just done a remarkable job.
“I was really thrilled for Michael. The Derby and then the Melbourne Cup, he’s done a great job.”
Cumani admitted he was never confident of lifting the prize despite Purple Moon being two lengths clear coming into the final furlong.
“I could see the grey horse coming down the outside. I was just hoping his run had peaked. I wished he had found form next week,” said the Newmarket handler.
Purple Moon’s rider Damien Oliver was claiming the runner-up spot for the second successive year and admitted his mount probably hit the front too soon.
“He’s a better chaser this guy. He was there to win it but Efficient was too strong,” he said.
“It’s that feeling you don’t want to feel. When you think you’ve got it won and you can see them out of the corner of your eye.
“Having a look at the replay, we certainly had a chance to win it. The winner covered a bit more ground than us. You can’t take anything off him.”
O’Brien praised Baster’s ride aboard Mahler and is now planning another crack at the race.
“Stephen gave him a lovely ride. This has whetted my appetite to come back next year, maybe with this horse. We’ll have to go and find another one too,” O’Brien said.
The Ballydoyle team were due to have two runners in the race but Scorpion broke down in training last week and is unlikely to run again.
Asked whether he believed the five-year-old could have won, O’Brien added: “Who knows? He may have run a good race but wasn’t the winner impressive?”
Tungsten Strike eventually finished last of the 21 starters and Holland blamed the heady Flemington atmosphere.
He said: “(I was) in a nice position early but just didn’t finish off the race as I would have liked. He faded quite badly and I think the occasion may have got to him.”
Favourite Master O’Reilly raced well off the pace and battled back in the straight to finish eighth.
“He just didn’t have the kick at the end of two miles,” said trainer Danny O’Brien. ”The three best stayers finished one, two and three.
“He’s sound and he’s loving his racing so there’s still plenty left in the tank.”
Jockey Vlad Duric added: “The horse just wasn’t with me from the 1100-metre (mark). I was running on empty at that point.”