The Lexus Melbourne Cup Tour ventured to Matamata on Wednesday to celebrate the link between the horse-mad township and the race that stops a nation.
The $200,000, 18-carat gold Lexus Melbourne Cup trophy began its New Zealand journey at the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata before visiting nearby thoroughbred nurseries Valachi Downs, Rich Hill Stud and Waikato Stud.
Melbourne Cup-winning trainer and Matamata native Mike Moroney joined former Racing Victoria chief steward Des Gleeson as the ambassadors for the tour, which also took in Wednesday’s Matamata races, with 2019 marking the Matamata Racing Club’s centennial.
“As a significant thoroughbred racing and breeding region, Matamata is intrinsically linked to the Melbourne Cup,” Matamata Racing Club chairman Dennis Ryan said.
“It’s especially pleasing for that to be recognised in the club’s centenary year.”
Racegoers were able to get up-close and personal with the prized trophy and trans-Tasman trainer Mike Moroney is hoping to add the 2019 version to the Melbourne Cup he won at the turn of the century with his grand stayer Brew.
“I am very proud to be an ambassador,” Moroney said.
“It is a great race and this is the first time it (the Melbourne Cup) has come to my hometown so it is a privilege to be here with it.”
Even before Moroney became a Melbourne Cup-winning trainer, his family had a special connection with the Cup, given his grandparents bred 1960 winner Hi Jinx, one of a number of Cup winners to be either bred or trained in the region.
“I never thought when I was a kid looking at the photo of Hi Jinx winning that I would ever win one myself,” Moroney said.
“To train one in my grandparents’ colours and for my brother Paul to be a part-owner was great.”
Moroney said it was in the minutes after winning the Cup and the international media throng that ensued that the significance of the victory really hit him.
“It hit me straight away what a big race it was. It is very unique without a doubt.
“I was known in New Zealand, I had won a couple of premierships, but I wasn’t known in Australia, then all of a sudden I was.
“It didn’t matter where you walked you were known as a Melbourne Cup winner and people knew who you were. It is probably the only race where a lot of people from all walks of life know who you are because of the fact you won a Melbourne Cup. It is just watched by that many people.”
Moroney’s 2019 Melbourne Cup aspirations were dealt a blow when Gr.1 Sydney Cup (3200m) runner-up Vengeur Masque injured himself in a paddock just before he was due to come back in to work, but he has an able back-up in imported galloper Sound.
“His (Sound) run in the Sydney Cup was very good when eighth and his run in the BMW (Gr.1, 2400m), we had to rush him to get him there.
“He ran in the Australian Cup (Gr.1, 2000m) and he hardly had any fast work going to that because he had feet trouble when I brought him back in. I had to rush him to get him everywhere.
“I thought he did a good job. He should have run second to Avilius in the BMW but for a bit of pilot error and he ran fourth.
“We hope he draws a gate and I have learnt a lot about him, it should really be his year. He can stay and he was a good stayer in Germany.
“We will barrier trial him at Cranbourne next week to then go to the Makybe Diva (Gr.1, 1600m). He will go from there to the Turnbull (Gr.1, 2000m) and the Caulfield Cup (Gr.1, 2400m). It depends what he does in the Caulfield Cup and how he comes through it as to whether we give him another run or go straight to the Melbourne Cup.”
Also hosting the Cup on Wednesday was Rich Hill Stud, co-breeders of 2015 Melbourne Cup winner Prince Of Penzance.
Rich Hill Stud’s managing director John Thompson had a similar experience to Moroney, with media interest from far and wide.
“I was on the phone that night for about five hours with radio stations from around Australia and New Zealand and the following day TV One News broadcast from the farm,” Thompson said.
“I think the romance of the story given he was trained by, at the time, a bit of a knockabout Aussie trainer in Darren Weir, he was ridden by Michelle Payne and he was a relatively cheap horse in the scheme of things as a $50,000 yearling in New Zealand, people could just relate to it.
“I said at the time ‘I can die a happy man, I’ve bred a Melbourne Cup winner’ because it just means that much and now all I want to do is breed another one.”
Thompson’s quest to become a dual Melbourne Cup-winning breeder is not out of the realms of possibility, with 2019 aspirant Surprise Baby one of the better Australasian bred hopes.
“He is right up there in terms of Australasian contenders for the race and it would be lovely for a son of Shocking (the 2009 Melbourne Cup winner), who stands here at the farm, to win the race.”
The Melbourne Cup Tour heads to Wellington on Thursday, where it will visit residents at Summerset retirement village and attend a riding lesson at Hutt Valley Riding for Disabled Association. In the afternoon the public will be invited to share in the magic of the trophy during a public display at Queensgate Shopping Centre.
On Friday, the People’s Cup will travel to Otago and attend the Otago Racing Club Awards before heading to the Otago Racing Club for their open day on Saturday.