Tears of sadness and joy as Mongolian Khan wins thrilling New Zealand Derby at Ellerslie
TV3's Mike McRoberts likened it to the epic Bonecrusher-Waverley Star battle of the 1986 Cox Plate, but today's finish to the $750,000 New Zealand Derby had so much more emotion - both elation and sadness.
In unprecedented scenes at Ellerslie, the birdcage was taken over by at least a hundred ecstatic supporters after the Chinese-owned Mongolian Khan came out on top over sentimental favourite Volkstok'n'barrell in the greatest home stretch duel seen for decades.
But as the celebrations, led by the Inner Mongolia Rider Horse Industry group's photographer and cheerleader, reached fever proportions, there were tears being shed by beaten trainer Donna Logan.
"I feel like I've let Dean down," Logan said through misty glasses. Back home in Ruakaka, Logan's training partner Dean was gravely ill, at the final stages of a battle with throat cancer.
"If you could just see what he's going through you'd realise why I wanted to win this so much.
"This is truly the most emotional day I've had in racing."
Logan, comforted by her children, found it hard to accept the kudos for Volkstok'n'barrell's brave performance, which came from all quarters, even that of winning owner Lang Lin and his huge entourage.
Gracious in his success, winning trainer Murray Baker said he thought the crowd had seen two great horses in action.
Mongolian Khan's troupe didn't need any confirmation of that. They were ready for the celebrations - a huge red and white placard adorned the fence in front of the grandstand trumpeting "Mongolian Khan to win honour for the country" in English and Chinese.
And no sooner had McRoberts made his sponsor's speech and the trophies handed out, the three cheers and chants began with one of their number waving a huge Chinese flag on the dais.
Lang's interpreter, who translated his speech to the crowd, said the chants were "cheers for Rider Horse", "cheers for Mongolian Khan" and "cheers for China".
The celebrations went on for a record time but few onlookers tired of the most open display of joy seen after a derby win, cameras clicking endlessly and dozens of connections thrusting their fists high in triumph.
But the happy throng weren't just hangers-on. About 40 of them were buyers who in the next few years will plough hundreds of thousands, more likely millions of dollars, into the industry.
Former Cambridge trainer Graeme Forbes, who is now a crucial cog in Lang's buying and training operation, said the benefits for the racing and breeding industry here would be "ginormous."
"This was Mr Lang's dream to win the derby. We started out buying three horses to keep here to try to win the race and this is one of them," he said.
"Everyone is in the doldrums in the industry here, vendors and breeders, but winning this race will see so many horses bought here in the next few years.
"We've bought about 1000 in the last two and a half years and Mr Lang is thinking really big. He could pump out 1000 a year in future, That's his aim."
Forbes said the derby win meant Lang would but not only buy more horses but more expensive horses and so too would the 40-strong gang who Lang had arranged three-year visas for so they could keep coming back on buying trips.
"Mr Lang loves horses and he's trying to bring a lot more people into racing."
Baker chuckled when he said he was sure he'd be getting more to train from Lang.
Mongolian Khan would now be set for the AJC Derby at Randwick, Baker said.
"He's a terrific stayer. I knew he'd keep going, and the faster they go, the better for him."
Baker, who trains with Andrew Forsman, said the win ranked right up with the derby wins he'd enjoyed in Australia.