Within the space of a few days, racehorse owner John O’Neill’s life went from agony to ecstasy.
The agony came with the controversial scratching of his Melbourne Cup hope Marmelo, runner-up in Australia’s most famous race last year.
The ecstasy came from winning the $2 million Victoria Derby at Flemington on Saturday.
The Anthony Freedman-trained Warning’s victory was made all the sweeter because it gave jockey Damien Oliver his sixth Derby.
Freedman, Oliver and part-owner O’Neill go back a long way.
“We’ve had horses with the Freedmans for 30 years and known Damien since he was a 15-year-old apprentice from Perth,” O’Neill said.
“It’s been a tough week, but look that’s racing.”
The tough part was Wednesday’s scratching of Marmelo and another international runner Ispolini from Tuesday’s $8 million Cup after CT scans indicated potential problems.
Marmelo’s owners questioned the assessment, and are still considering whether to take legal action after the Cup carnival to seek compensation for the cost of bringing the horse over from the UK.
“As we said going through the Marmelo scenario, the most important thing is always the horse’s welfare,” O’Neill said after the Derby.
“From our perspective, I’m not a vet but we had professional advice.
“It just didn’t work out this time for us.”
Even before his Derby victory, Oliver had etched his name into the history books by breaking the record for riding the most winners during the four-meeting Melbourne Cup carnival at Flemington.
“I feel pretty honoured to think that you’ve been the most successful jockey in over 150 years,” the 47-year-old said.
Oliver, who won his first Derby 27 years ago, was happy to celebrate the win – his 74th Cup carnival victory – with O’Neill and the Freedman training family.
“We shared a lot of good times together as we were growing up in the racing industry. We’re both seasoned campaigners now so it’s good to be still sharing it.”
Jockey Linda Meech’s wish for Thought Of That to be beaten in the Derby, after she was replaced by Mark Zahra earlier this week, came true.
Managing owner Brae Sokolski called the shots in choosing a rider, after which Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Michelle Payne described him as a “pig” in a tweet that earned her a $1000 fine.
Sokolski said the wet track made the difference in the colt’s 10th place, not the rider.
“Everyone’s going to talk about the jockey but the jockey made absolutely no difference in the end because he was so well beaten, it became irrelevant.”
Crowd numbers fell to 80,200, down 11,000 on last year, as 19mm of rain fell at Flemington and a small group of anti-horse racing protesters gathered outside after recent allegations of animal cruelty involving racehorses sent to a slaughterhouse.