Team Williams eyes eighth Lexus Melbourne Cup with Ramsden winner Point Nepean
November's Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m) could see a seven-time winning owner combine with a rider yet to be tested in Australia's most prolific race after Point Nepean became the first horse to book his place in the $8 million feature with his victory in Saturday's Lexus Andrew Ramsden (2800m) at Flemington.
Ridden by 22-year-old apprentice Alana Kelly for two-time Cup-winning trainer Robert Hickmott and the most successful owner in Lexus Melbourne Cup history, Lloyd Williams, Point Nepean secured his berth for the 'race that stops a nation'™ by taking out the $500,000 Lexus Andrew Ramsden, the first of five contests that offer the winner an automatic spot on the first Tuesday in November.
Settled midfield by Kelly behind a solid tempo set by three-year-old Turn It Up Tommy, Point Nepean was slowly given more rein by his rider before being ridden along from the 800 metres.
That saw him attacking for the lead before the home turn in what ultimately proved a decisive move as their rivals to the inside, most notably the well-tried Splendiferous and Luncies, came under heavy pressure to match motors with the Irish import.
At the top of the straight, it looked as though it would be a stretch-long battle between favourites Point Nepean and Splendiferous, but the mare quickly faded to be replaced by Sydney raider Luncies to her inside. And while the Kris Lees-trained Luncies proved gallant all the way to the line, the grey could not overcome the margin established by Kelly with three-quarters of a length separating the pair at the finish.
They came right away of last year's VRC St Leger (2800m) winner Through Irish Eyes in third, with Penfolds Victoria Derby (2500m) hero Warning in fourth, more than three lengths from the winner.
"It's amazing, it's a great credit to all of our team up at Macedon," said co-owner Nick Williams. "This horse has really come forward over the last two or three months and you don't see them win like that too often, particularly an inexperienced horse over a more seasoned stayer like Luncies.”
Added Kelly: “He jumped quite awkwardly and I nearly fell off him out of the barriers, but we were happy to let him build his momentum. He relaxed lovely today, he did take a long time to get into his motions on the going today but he put them away well again.
"He’s an out and out stayer and he just runs them off their feet. It’s absolutely exciting.”
The Williams family were recording their second win in the race, having taken the feature in 1984 when it was still known as the Duke Of Norfolk Stakes. Their winner that year, What A Nuisance, would return to Flemington in 1985 to take out the first million-dollar Melbourne Cup.
However, it was another of their Cup winners that Williams believes is the most apt comparison - and fittingly, he was at Flemington on Saturday.
"He's got all the right traits," Williams said. "It's going to sound strange given he's here today but the horse that he reminds me of is Almandin. When we got him, he'd won a Group 2 but he was very raw and the unfinished article. This horse is a bit the same, albeit younger and in a lower grade.
"Where this horse has come from this preparation, the world's his oyster. He's a genuine two-miler, he was strong on the line again today. If he keeps going forward, he can certainly make himself known on Cup day."
Kelly recorded her first stakes win with Saturday's victory and Williams said that he believed it would be the first of many, with the apprentice poised to retain the ride throughout the coming months.
"Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. But this is why she is going to be one of the great jockeys - she didn't panic. She just kept the horse in a rhythm and, once the pace came out of the race, she got herself into a position to win." - Nick Williams
"It's a great credit to her. A lot of times in these races when things don't go to plan, they really don't go to plan but she had the patience to sit there and pull a miracle off.
"We'll wait and see (whether she takes the ride in November) but she's certainly heading the right way. Put it this way, I don't think she'll be claiming by then."
Williams also praised the Lexus Andrew Ramsden, in its fourth year as a ballot-exempt race for the Lexus Melbourne Cup with past May winners Steel Prince (2019) and Surprise Baby (2020) both going on to win prizemoney in November.
"We've all got to get behind this race," he said. "It's a great thing for the Melbourne Cup and I think we saw two horses there at the back end of this race that can make their presence felt if they keep going forward between now and November.
"That's what we need to see, some progressive horses in it and hopefully that's what we've seen today."
Williams also said that it meant the world to his family to win a race named for Andrew Ramsden, paying tribute to the former Victoria Racing Club (VRC) Chairman and his son, current Vice Chairman Michael Ramsden, who is a part-owner of runner-up Luncies.
"From one racing tragic family to another, it means a lot to me and to my Dad to win it," Williams said. "Dad is absolutely thrilled to win a race named after Andrew Ramsden. He has so much respect for the Ramsden family. Your father has shone down on us a couple of times, I think he helped us with Fawkner in the Caulfield Cup and I think he's shone down upon us today."
The next four Golden Tickets for the Lexus Melbourne Cup are on offer in October in the Group 3 Lexus The Bart Cummings (2500m), the Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m), the Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) and the Group 3 Lexus Hotham Stakes (2500m).