MELBOURNE, Australia - French-trained stayer Dunaden won the US$6.2-million Melbourne Cup from England's Red Cadeaux on Tuesday in one of the closest finishes in the 151-year history of the two-mile handicap.
French jockey Christophe Lemaire picked up the ride on the six-year-old France-bred when the rider originally booked for the horse, Australian Craig Williams, failed on the eve of the race to overturn a suspension.
Lemaire guided the Mikel Delzangles-trained Dunaden to the front a few strides from the winning post and held on by a nose from the fast-finishing Red Cadeaux, ridden by Australia's Michael Rodd.
Dunaden, by the British sire Nicobar from the French mare La Marlia, started an 8-1 second favourite after winning the Geelong Cup on Oct. 19 in its first start in Australia. Red Cadeaux started at odds of more than 30-1.
Dunaden gave France its second successive win in the Melbourne Cup, the world's richest open handicap, after last year's victory by the American-bred, France-trained Americain.
Defending champion Americain started a 5-1 favourite Tuesday but carried eight pounds more than last year as a 128-pounds top weight and finished a game fourth after an interrupted run.
The German import Lucas Cranach, now owned and trained in Australia, finished third as international horses filled the first seven placings.
After the late scratching of Mourayan a field of 23 horses — including a record 13 international stayers and another six which began their careers in the northern hemisphere but are now with Australian trainers — faced the starter.
Lemaire arrived in Australia from Japan only 24 hours before the race and was overcome with emotion when his narrow victory was confirmed.
"It's incredible — it's a great moment for me," Lemaire said. "I was a bit anxious. I knew it was very close.
"I feel very sorry for Craig. He's a good friend of mine. I know it's very hard for him but it's part of a jockey's life and I'm sure he'll win the Melbourne Cup one year."
The win was Dunaden's eighth in 28 starts and earns his owner $3.6 million plus a trophy worth $175,000.
Delzangles, a former assistant in the stable of Americain's trainer Alain De Royer-Dupre at Chantilly, followed the same path as Americain last year, tackling only the Geelong Cup before lining up in the Melbourne Cup, Australia's richest horse race.
"I'm still shaking. It's amazing. I thought I was beaten, so it's even better," Delzangles said.