Racing: Ethereal barrier to Godolphin's dreams

Give The Slip had travelled 10,480 miles from Newmarket to Melbourne, and a fraction less than another two around Flemington racecourse, but in the end it was the final 50 yards which found him out. Godolphin's supposed second-string set off in front in the Melbourne Cup yesterday, looked uncatchable on the turn for home, and still held a healthy lead with a furlong to run.

Give The Slip had travelled 10,480 miles from Newmarket to Melbourne, and a fraction less than another two around Flemington racecourse, but in the end it was the final 50 yards which found him out. Godolphin's supposed second-string set off in front in the Melbourne Cup yesterday, looked uncatchable on the turn for home, and still held a healthy lead with a furlong to run.

But then a mare called Ethereal burst from the pack to snare him on the line, and Godolphin were again frustrated in their attempt to win the southern hemisphere's greatest prize.

Two years ago, it was Central Park, who started at 50-1, who was worn down in the final furlong. In Australia yesterday, it seemed that Richard Hills was about to repeat the trick he pulled off on Summoner in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and win another major race from the front on a rank outsider

Give The Slip started at 30-1, but seemed more like a 1-30 chance with half a mile to run, not least since a heavy pre-race shower had softened the ground and made it more difficult for horses to quicken from behind. Ethereal, a 9-1 chance, did just that for her jockey, Scott Seamer, however, and for all that she was getting 7lb from Give The Slip, her victory was fully deserved. David Elsworth's Persian Punch, who started at 12-1 under top weight, was third for the second time in the race, six lengths adrift of the first two home.

Ethereal is trained in New Zealand by Sheila Laxon, who became the first woman to train a Melbourne Cup winner. Laxon was born in Pontypridd and at one time rode work for John Dunlop at Arundel, but is now the rising star of Antipodean racing, having won the Caulfield Cup with Ethereal less than two weeks ago. Ethereal is the 11th horse, and only the third mare, to complete the double.

"I was a bit concerned when it started to rain," Laxon said, "I thought it might be too testing for her but she is a strong horse and Scott handled her perfectly. It was a brilliant ride that got her home. I was very nervous before the Caulfield Cup. That was the race I'd set her for and anything she did today was a bonus. As for being the first woman to train the Cup winner, well, it proves that anything a man can do, a woman can do as well."

Hills was generous in defeat. "The better horse won," he said. "She gave me 10 lengths start and beat me so she had to be the best. My horse was just a bit keen and anxious going down the back of the course and I had to hold him together. But he's run such a brave race. Take the winner out and I've beaten the rest by six lengths."

Marienbard, reckoned to be Godolphin's prime contender for the race, ran a disappointing seventh for Frankie Dettori, who blamed the firm ground on the gallops at nearby Sandown, where the horse was stabled, for the performance. "The horse was jarred up with the ground at Sandown," Dettori said. "Everything was going hunky-dory until I asked him to pick up but he just couldn't. He is a big horse with huge shoulders and got jarred up on the gallops, but you don't know these things until you ask the horse a question."

Give The Slip may return for another attempt to win the Cup next year, according to Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manger, while Jeff Smith, the owner of Persian Punch, will not admit defeat in his pursuit of the Cup. "At the weights, Persian Punch was the best horse in the race, but realistically we can't come back with him so I'll have to find another one, but I intend winning this race one day. At least we've managed to pay the expenses, but not for dinner tonight."

As is often the case, the race was a rough one, with one jockey, Corey Brown, unseated in a scrimmage on the home turn, while another runner, Curata Storm, failed to finish after breaking a blood vessel. Brown suffered only cuts and bruises. As the field was being led in after the race a stream of ticker-tape had an unsettling effect on the winner, who parted company with Seamer.

There was controversy too when Universal Prince, who was the ante-post favourite for the Cup until last week, was ruled unfit to race by the local vets just hours before the race.

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