SPORT / Forget the rest, who were the best in '93?: Racing: Historic prize for surviving epic trek - Vintage Crop

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FOR the aesthetes, Zafonic's stunning 2,000 Guineas victory in the spring will be the performance of the year, writes Richard Edmondson. But the colts' Classic has had its flamboyant winners before and 1993 has seen a far more historic feat: Vintage Crop's success in Australia's biggest race, the Melbourne Cup.

In years to come, the November carnival at Flemington may be a regular stopping-off point for European horses, of whom Vintage Crop, who is trained in Ireland by Dermot Weld, and the English-based Drum Taps, were the first representatives in the 131-year history of the event.

The travellers will also undoubtedly add to this debut win, but that should not diminish the achievement of the finely boned chestnut. Like the fabled crew who sailed on when all expected their ship to tilt into an ocean abyss, he has proved that this journey into the unknown can have a pleasant conclusion.

The six-year-old's trip to the Antipodes from Co Kildare was harrowing enough, lasting 38 hours and taking in Frankfurt, Dubai and Hong Kong. When the horse tottered down the ramp in the state of Victoria, the evidence that he had not been in club class was a skeleton without padding; he had lost over a stone in weight.

After two weeks in quarantine, following a similar period in isolation back home, some of the musculature had returned but Ireland's aspirant was still considered too light. Too light in weight, and too light in recent experience, as most of his rivals had run two days earlier. His last outing had been at the windy Curragh six weeks previously.

Thus, the 'phantom calls', the counterfeit commentaries which are a routine feature at functions building up to the Cup, rarely saw Vintage Crop in a central role. The horse himself saved the real thing for the day.

A listless and uninspiring figure for much of his time in Australia, Vintage Crop snapped himself back to alertness just 24 hours before the race. Reportage of this change in demeanour was delivered by someone in the Flemington press room, and soon all the Europeans corps was on 'our horse'. (The winning connections, incidentally, responded well to their animal being referred to in the straight first as British and then, the ultimate calumny, the English horse.)

Considering what had gone before, Vintage Crop behaved in the Melbourne Cup remarkably similarly to the way he has in events over 10,000 miles away. For staying races he has the irresistible blend of an athlete with stamina sufficient to stay with the dogged, and speed enough to leave them panting in the closing stages.

As Vintage Crop performed this execution on his 23 rivals just seven weeks ago, it became less easy to remember the trauma he had been through. 'He'd hold his place with any stayer in the world,' Michael Kinane, the winning jockey, said. The same should be said of the horse's achievement in the annals of thoroughbred accomplishment.

Weld was moved by Vintage Crop's performance and confessed he had wanted to win the Cup since reading The Man From Snowy River, by the Australian poet, A B 'Banjo' Paterson. Fruition tempted him into a recital from A Bush Christening.

This was appropriate considering the baptism that had been performed by Vintage Crop, the beginning of the idea that racing is a sport without frontiers.