Melbourne Cup produced the hero we needed
Tina Turner was wrong. We do need another hero, and on Tuesday we got one that was right under our noses all along: an Australian-bred galloper, owned by Australians, trained on the Bellarine Peninsula near Geelong and ridden by that popular Victorian jockey Craig Williams.
It has been a decade since Shocking became the last Australian winner of our increasingly international race. When Vow And Declare nosed out a wall of charging horses in the shadow of the post, he turned back time to the era when Australasian horses owned the Melbourne Cup.
Two hours before the handsome four-year-old crossed the line on a day of brilliant sunshine, it seemed the story of the day might come from the hero of Horsham, Surprise Baby. Or from Youngstar, the beautiful little mare bred by a former bricklayer in the backblocks of New South Wales and trained by honorary Australian Chris Waller.
Instead, it came from a horse that just two years ago was unwanted by the market, failing to make his reserve price and taken home by his owners. But, in racing and in life, good luck can come disguised as the other sort: the ugly duckling turned into a swan.
Before the race of his life, Vow And Declare was shuffling around in his stall, tossing his head and rattling his lead. He even lifted a hind leg as if to kick his strapper but he meant no harm. He just wanted to get on with the job.
It was a victory for Danny O'Brien, a Flemington-based trainer who has endured a bumpy ride in the last few years, times when he must have wondered if it was worth the huge investment sunk into his satellite training property near Barwon Heads.
It was a victory for his decision to break the Australian training tradition and keep the horse in work since winter, the way English trainers do.
It was a victory for Australian breeders at a time when our big distance races are besieged with European staying horses.
It was a victory for a stallion named Declaration Of War, who in four days has emerged as a staying sire who might end up compared with the likes of the great Zabeel. On Saturday, Declaration's chestnut son Warning dominated the Victoria Derby; now the stallion has done it again with Vow And Declare.
But it's not all good news. Declaration Of War was sold to Japan three years ago and there is no guarantee he will be "shuttled" south for our breeding season. You win some, you lose some.
Look forward to meeting some of his offspring travelling south to contest future Cups, the way Caulfield Cup winner Mer De Glace has this year before running sixth yesterday. Not unbeatable, after all.
Speaking of bloodlines, Danny O'Brien leapfrogged his way to the top of an illustrious clan by beating seven entries trained by his Irish namesakes, Aidan O'Brien and son Joseph. They, of course, took over from their namesake (and no relation), Vincent O'Brien, the "wizard of Ballydoyle" in Ireland. There is also the transplanted Dubliner who arranged the breeding of Winx. His name is Peter O'Brien. No relation, either.
Yesterday it was the turn of the red-haired Australian O'Brien and the red-haired Australian horse to have a turn in the sun. In that sense, it was a victory for chestnuts.
Racing people are mostly pragmatic but some can also be superstitious and conservative.
An enduring prejudice is against the "rangas" of the equine world. Like Phar Lap, for instance, or Secretariat, both known as "Big Red". Not to mention Man O'War. Others hate "wishy-washy" chestnuts with a pale mane and tail. As in the great Peter Pan.
Some think chestnuts are "weak", which might have surprised Bart Cummings, whose greatest horses included his first Cup winner, the brave, little chestnut mare Light Fingers. And Saintly, who retired injured aged four after winning both the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup.
After watching Vow And Declare come back to scale yesterday, bloodstock expert Danny Power recalled seeing the astute trainer Lee Freedman recommend a chestnut yearling colt to a prospective owner at the sales.
"Oh no," whined the wannabe owner. "I couldn't have a chestnut." To which Freedman retorted: "Well, go and spend your $400,000 on a Ferrari then, and get any colour you want."
Freedman, of course, won a Melbourne Cup and a Caulfield Cup, and came within a nose of a second Melbourne Cup, with a horse called Doriemus. He was a chestnut.
Proof that heroes come in all shapes, sizes and colours.