Craig Williams went from the Melbourne Cup penthouse last year to the outhouse this year, through no fault of his own, when heavily-backed favourite Surprise Baby was a flop in the great race.
Punters launched in the final few minutes of betting with a barrage of bets on Williams to make it consecutive Melbourne Cups and claim victory on the Paul Preusker-trained stayer, who was born in New Zealand.
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Surprise Baby was backed in from $7 to start $6 favourite, overtaking northern hemisphere three-year-old and eventual runner-up Tiger Moth at the top of betting charts.
However it all went pear-shaped soon after the start when Williams found himself jostling for position with Miami Bound and then checking and having to drop back further than many may have expected from barrier 7.
The task was too great from there in a Melbourne Cup dominated by winning frontrunner Twilight Payment and second favourite and on-pace runner Tiger Moth.
Surprise Baby finished 13th, beaten almost nine lengths in a race in which he never looked a winning chance after they jumped, unlike Williams’ famous drought-breaking Cup victory on Vow And Declare last year.
On that occasion, Vow And Declare was spurred on by late interference in madcap scenes in which a pressure from the outside and a successful fourth versus second protest pushed his horse forward.
From the moment he won the Cup last year, Williams had his eye on Surprise Baby to ride for the 2020 Melbourne Cup after the galloper finished an eye-catching fifth.
Horsham trainer Preusker would have been a genius had he got the victory, after deploying Surprise Baby on a quirky Cup mission in which he only had two runs since last year’s Cup and hadn’t been seen since the Turnbull Stakes more than a month ago.
But Surprise Baby was unable to strut his finest stuff on Australian racing’s biggest stage, unlike his father Shocking who famously won the 2009 Melbourne Cup for Mark Kavanagh.
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Surprise Baby (NZ)Source:Getty Images
Williams said the galloper appeared “a bit stressed” after the Cup and said his performance was well below par.
Meanwhile, his closest betting rival Tiger Moth ran his heart out for second but it was another case of Irish training maestro Aidan O’Brien having to play second fiddle to his son Joseph, who won his second Melbourne Cup
It was the same situation in 2017 when Joseph did something his father had never done when winning the Cup with Rekindling, with Aidan’s runner Johannes Vermeer finishing second.
Punters who had backed Tiger Moth strongly all week, not fazed that the inexperienced galloper was having just his fifth career start, were almost on the mark.
Jockey Kerrin McEvoy, chasing a record-equalling fourth Melbourne Cup win, had surged Tiger Moth up from the second widest barrier, doing a lot of work to take a position early on.
His run, sitting in the slipstream of Twilight Payment, was enormous given he was a boy racing against men.
“The winner kept running, I just had to pick up to get into the race, which he did, but the winner was just a bit strong today,” McEvoy said.
“It was a great run for a young horse having only his fifth start in a race. He’s run really well.”
But the bottom line was Aidan O’Brien again came away from the Cup empty, his Cup quest which started with Yeats in 2006 will no doubt continue again next year.
This article first appeared on punters.com.au and was reproduced with permission
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