Australian Bloodstock were already looking to another Melbourne Cup campaign with Big Duke after the Darren Weir-trained gelding provided the highlight on a bittersweet day for the Hunter syndicators.
Big Duke ($21), with Brenton Avdulla in the saddle, finished strongly for fourth and $250,000 in prizemoney in the $6.2 million Cup (3200m) at Flemington on Tuesday. He was 5.65 lengths behind winner Rekindling and three lengths off third-placed Max Dynamite.
Newcastle Jockey Club chairman Geoff Barnett, his wife Maureen, and Australian Bloodstock directors Jamie Lovett and Luke Murrell were among the owners of Big Duke.
They were also owners of the Andreas Wohler-trained, Kerrin McEvoy-ridden Red Cardinal ($16), which finished 11th – one spot outside the prizemoney.
It was the first time Australian Bloodstock, the owners of 2014 Cup winner Protectionist, had qualified two runners for the race that stops a nation.
Although proud of the effort of Big Duke, the leading Australian-trained finisher, Lovett was disappointed with the result of Red Cardinal, which was having his first start Down Under.
“I think he might have felt the track, the way Kerrin was talking,” Lovett said. “It was a bit firmer than what he’s used too. He tried hard from a bad barrier, and it was a bit of an on-pace race as well.
“But Big Duke ran out of his skin. He gave them a sight at the 300 when he got off their backs.
“It’s disappointing not to win, but you can’t win every year. The horses didn’t disgrace themselves.”
Asked if Big Duke could be back for another crack next year, Lovett said: “Absolutely.
“He's a tough horse, he stays all day. We’ll probably run him in the Sandown Classic [on November 18]. He’s a good horse and he just keeps backing up.”
Barnett was also keen to return next year with Big Duke and perhaps other chances.
“He’ll be back again for sure, after that run,” Barnett said. “We might even have three by then.”
It was the Barnetts’ first time as owners of a Cup runner and they were thrilled with the effort of Big Duke, which has taken his Australian earnings past $1.3 million.
“It was excellent, and he’s just a tough horse,” Geoff said.
“When we reflect back on what he’s done this past year, it’s been excellent, and it’s good prizemoney for running fourth. And it just adds to what he’s won for us already.
“He’ll roll around again next year.
“I think all the Europeans would like a bit of sting out of the track. I think maybe that’s what happened to Red Cardinal a bit. They said he just didn’t want to let down on the hard going.”
Red Cardinal had been flagged as a possible addition to Weir’s stable to continue racing in Australia, but Lovett said he could now return to Europe.
“We’ll let the dust settle and see where he’s best placed,” he said.
“He does like tracks with a bit of give in them, and you don’t tend to get those in Australia.”
Weir was more than pleased with the performance of Big Duke, who Murrell said pre-race was the best of the Australian chances.
“He got a lovely run through and he went terrific,” Weir said.
“He’s a good honest horse. He’s a beauty. I’d like to have a few more like him.”
Avdulla was grateful for the opportunity to ride Big Duke and was happy the Irish-bred gelding’s effort.
“He ran terrific,” Avdulla said.
“It was only my second ride in the Cup. I rode one [Mourayan in 2013] for Lloyd Williams a few years ago, but the Australian Bloodstock boys have always been good with me.
“They gave me a live chance to run top 10, he got a good gate and had a beautiful run through.
“When he got out on the corner I thought he was definitely going to be in the finish but the first two were a bit too good for us.
“But he tried his guts out, Weiry had him in top order and fourth in the Melbourne Cup, I don’t think he could have gone much better.
“He’s a genuine, honest, trying horse who handles all tracks. It was his grand final today and he was peaked ready to go, and ran as well as he could.”