Sheikh Fahad leads in Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden ©Bronwyn Healy

Sheikh Fahad Al Thani will look back on the year 2011 as a good one. His exciting young stallion Makfi has recorded good fertility figures with his first book of mares; his two-year-old filly Lightening Pearl has won the Cheveley Park Stakes; and the Qatari investment company which he heads, QIPCO, has been thrust into the spotlight thanks to its high-profile sponsorship of the British Champions’ Series. However, all these milestones have been eclipsed by the victory of his stayer Dunaden (who, like Lightening Pearl, carries the yellow silks of his Pearl Bloodstock company) in the Emirates Melbourne Cup.

Since Vintage Crop and Dermot Weld first took the Melbourne Cup back to Ireland in 1993, Europe’s influence on ‘the race that stops a nation’ has been continually increasing. However, this year the floodgates burst open as the stream became a torrent, leaving the Australasian racing and breeding communities to have a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror.

It was startling enough that nearly half of the runners (ie 11 of 23) in the Cup were trained in Europe. Even more startling were the facts that only six of these 23 horses were bred in Australia (three in Australia and three in New Zealand); that only one of the first ten home (the Australian-bred Niwot, who finished eighth) was bred in Australasia; and that the only Australian-trained horse in the first seven was the third-placed Lucas Cranach, who had only taken up Australian citizenship at the end of September, having previously been trained in his native Germany. Most startling fact of all, perhaps, was that there was not a single New Zealand-trained runner, a situation seemingly as unthinkable as if there were no Irish-trained runners in the Grand National.

This year’s Emirates Melbourne Cup, though, will not be remembered only for the eclipse of the Australasian stayer, but also for the closeness of its finish. While Prince Fahad rejoiced with his racing manager David Redvers and their trainer and jockey (Mikel Delzangles and Christophe Lemaire), one had to spare a thought for the connections of the Ed Dunlop-trained runner-up Red Cadeaux. Only modern technology prevented the five-year-old son of Cadeaux Genereux from sharing the spoils, as the photo-finish print showed that the admirable chestnut gelding had been beaten by approximately two pixels. Short heads don’t come any shorter than that, leaving Red Cadeaux’s jockey Michael Rodd (who does at least have the consolation of having won the race previously, courtesy of his victory on Efficient in 2007) to shake his head in dismay and reflect that he would have much preferred to go down by half a length than by so tantalizingly slender a margin.