Racing: Punch finds Jezabeel is no Judy

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THEY TRAVELLED more than 10,000 miles to run in Australia's most famous race, but in the end it was just a few yards which made all the difference. Three of the five British-trained runners in the Melbourne Cup came within a couple of lengths of victory, but neither could find a finishing kick to beat either Jezabeel or Champagne, both of them mares who had made a much shorter trip from New Zealand.

Persian Punch, trained by David Elsworth, did at least claim the honour of Britain's best-ever finish in the Cup, with his third place being one better than the fourth of Harbour Dues 12 months ago. The latter's trainer, Lady Herries, once again finished just outside the places, this time with Taufan's Melody, who edged Paul Cole's Yorkshire into fifth.

Faithful Son, who was the shortest of the British runners in the betting, looked to be going as well as any as the tightly-packed field turned into the straight, but his stamina ran out with a furlong to run and he faded back into seventh. Sheer Danzig, who completed the British challenge, finished 12th.

It was Jezabeel, though, who returned to the winner's enclosure and a jubilant reception from more than 100,000 racegoers, many of whom had helped to force her in to 6-1 favouritism just before the stalls opened. Jezabeel was one of the worst sufferers when Taufan's Melody forced his way through a wall of horses to win the Caulfield Cup three weeks ago, but this time Chris Munce, her jockey, managed to avoid the jostling.

They hit the front with the post in sight, only for Champagne to deliver a late challenge on the outside which seemed sure to succeed. Munce, though, dragged one last burst of effort from his mount, and it was enough to edge her back in front a few strides from the line.

The first Australian horse home was Tie The Knot, who finished sixth, but while there had been complaints from local trainers and jockeys in the run-up to the race about the number of "foreign" runners allowed to race in the Melbourne Cup, those from New Zealand, it seems, did not count.

Nor will the misgivings of some Australians prevent Jeff Smith, for one, from making further attempts to win the race.

Smith's Grey Shot finished seventh two years ago, and the owner was at Flemington to see Persian Punch carry his colours into the frame. "There's no question this is a horse capable of winning the Melbourne Cup," Smith said. "What we tried to do was come over for the Caulfield Cup but he got a batch of ringworm. If he'd had those extra three weeks out here, he'd have been that much sharper. If we can do what we would have liked to do in the Caulfield, then we'll go close. I'll be back, I want to win the bloody thing."

If so, he may have to take on the Godolphin team once again. Faithful Son's run was a disappointment, but not quite a surprise, since his best form in Europe has been over a mile and a quarter. "He had every chance coming up the straight but he didn't get home," Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, said. "This trip is a different ball game and we were running against professional stayers, but he actually ran very well. It's been an amazing adventure for us, and we'll be back in the future."

The crowd at Flemington was the highest for 18 years, perhaps because of the interest generated by a strong overseas challenge. "It was one of the best Melbourne Cups we've ever seen," Les Benton, general manager of the Victoria Racing Club, said. "The roar, the crowd, the day, it's been unbelievable. Go and watch the video 10 times over and you still get goose bumps all over your neck. The raiders have just run fantastically."

UK punters who backed Taufan's Melody, fourth in the Melbourne Cup, with the Tote will be paid out even if they placed their bets on Australian Tote terms, which paid out on the first three only.