MELBOURNE :Verry Elleegant won the AUS$8 million (US$6 million) Melbourne Cup at Flemington Racecourse on Tuesday, storming home in the final straight to win by three-and-a-half lengths from local favourite Incentivise.
The six-year-old mare, rated a 14/1 chance by bookmakers, gave jockey James McDonald and trainer Chris Waller their first wins in the gruelling two-mile handicap known as "the race that stops the nation".
New Zealander McDonald was overwhelmed with emotion after crossing on the horse that won last year's Caulfield Cup but had never triumphed beyond 2,400 metres.
"I love her to bits, she's been so good to me," he said.
"I can safely say she is a champion now.
"She was relaxed the whole way ... I was blowing kisses to her all the way. I just can't believe it.
"I never thought I would win one (Melbourne Cup), I dreamed I'd win one, it's so hard to win. Her fight and determination just takes her so far. I want to swear!"
British runner Spanish Mission finished third while last year's winner Twilight Payment, trained by Irishman Joseph O'Brien, was 11th.
Australian stayer Incentivise was a 3/1 favourite, having won its last nine starts and after blitzing the field in last month's 2,400m Caulfield Cup, a traditional form guide.
The Peter Moody-trained gelding held the lead as it rounded the final turn but Verry Elleegant, hauling a hefty 57kg, burst to the front with 300m to the post and burned away.
The result was a huge windfall for property developer Brae Sokolski, a part owner in both the winner and runnerup.
"That's the most humbling moment of my life," said Sokolski, who jumped a track-side fence in breach of protocols to be near his horses.
"Incentivise obviously, he was the hype horse, we did think he would win, but we had so much faith in her still.
"At the 200m mark, when I just saw those colours to the outside, I knew the race was over because she just cruised into it."
Only two horses prepared outside Australia and New Zealand were among the 23 that ran at Flemington, where a COVID-capped crowd of 10,000 gathered on a hot, sunny day.
A spate of deaths among Melbourne Cup runners in recent years had put Australia's most famous horse race under the microscope and triggered strict, new veterinary rules which led to most international stables snubbing it.
Without a strong foreign presence, pundits rated Tuesday's field among the weakest in decades but there were no immediate reports of any horse injuries among the runners in a relief for organisers.
Rank outsider Future Score, trained by Matt Cumani, was scratched in the morning after vets found lameness in his right foreleg.
Animal rights activists turned up to protest at the gates of Flemington, heckling racegoers and chanting: "Nup to the Cup!"
Police arrested a number of them for trying to chain themselves to a truck loaded with manure near the racecourse.
Other demonstrators protesting against local COVID-19 vaccination mandates also marched to Flemington and gathered outside the gates.
(US$1 = 1.3330 Australian dollars)
(Additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by Stephen Coates/Peter Rutherford)