AIDAN O’BRIEN was hauled back to Flemington yesterday by Racing Victoria stewards after the Irish trainer’s trio of Melbourne Cup runners failed miserably, with team riding tactics the subject of a grilling.
"We’ve come down here to do our best," O’Brien told stewards while standing at the head of the table. "All the trainers, jockeys [in the race] knew we were going to build an even pace."
O’Brien’s team was headed by Europe’s champion stayer, Septimus, which tucked in behind stablemates and pacemaker Alessandro Volta, with Honolulu also in the tearaway group.
"The first half-mile was five seconds quicker than last year," chief steward Terry Bailey the trainer. O’Brien didn’t actually blame the firm track for the dismal failures – in which Septimus was the best placed of three when finishing 18th – but the trainer made a point out saying "we were promised all the way safe ground".
"Imagine the uproar if I came in here and said, ‘I want to take the horse out’," said O’Brien, who explained his jockeys had been told "don’t break their [horse’s] stride, let them flow" while adding "all jockeys came in and said the horses felt the ground".
Both Honolulu and Septimus pulled up lame, but Bailey was more concerned with Alessandro Volta beating only Honolulu home.
Earlier, stewards questioned O’Brien’s jockeys, with Wayne Lordan [Alessandro Volta] asked about the riding instructions.
"Jump out, let the horse use his stride, he stays very well," was Lordan’s explanation. "I didn’t think we went to quick."
Lordan said that at the 200m mark, Alessandro Volta changed stride and he thought it "burst" and had "bled internally" and it didn’t go forward. "The reason it is not going forward is you set him to big a task," Bailey replied.
Jockey Colm O’Donoghue, who rode Honolulu, was next up and asked about riding instructions. "Aidan had instructed Wayne to take the lead," O’Donoghue said.
The jockey went on to explain Honolulu was "dead and buried" at the halfway mark, when "I should have really been coming into it". O’Donoghue admitted the tearaway tactic "doesn’t look good … looks terrible", while Murtagh told stewards "Aidan doesn’t give me much instruction".
Told of O’Donoghue’s comments, Lordan said "I was told I could [lead] if I want; be in the first three".
O’Brien recalled the past two Melbourne Cups in which he has started horses. He told stewards Australian horses usually leave the straight the first time and slow down, but his jockeys were instructed not to slacken off. "I had a dream the horses could be the first three," O’Brien said.
Bailey informed O’Brien a jockey must ride to ensure their mount is given every reasonable and permissible chance to finish in the best possible place.
O’Brien remained adamant throughout the inquiry the horses had to be ridden in the manner they were. O’Brien believed it would have been detrimental to his three horses if they had been ridden any quieter.
"We’ve done our best and didn’t get it right," O’Brien said. "Who knows that was going to happen."
Having come down in good faith, O’Brien told stewards charging himself or his lads for a breach of the rules "doesn’t make a lot of sense to me", while stressing "we feel privileged" to be here for the Melbourne Cup.
"I was straight all the way," O’Brien said. "If they run first, second, third would we have this inquiry?"
O’Brien also asked "do you think we were running our horses for Bart Cummings?" To which Bailey replied, "I wouldn’t have thought so."
In taking no action, Bailey informed O’Brien and his jockeys that the questions asked at the inquiry were those stewards ask every time there is a race meeting. "It is our obligation, it is our duty," Bailey said.
"When there are conflicts of evidence from riders, naturally we talk to the trainer – whether you are Mr O’Brien or a one-horse trainer from Colac."