By Russell Bennett
Our Big Mike is the toast of the town after one hell of a big upset to claim this year’s $300,000 Sportsbet Pakenham Cup.
Trained out of Rotorua, New Zealand by Craig Phelan, the six-year-old brown gelding controlled the Cup from start to finish, ultimately winning by two lengths and stunningly setting a new 2500-metre track record in the process.
The previous track record was set in January last year by Shampion at 2:36.83, while Our Big Mike’s new benchmark is 2:34.68.
The result stunned the huge crowd that turned out to witness some of the biggest names in racing.
It loomed as one of the best fields in the history of the Pakenham Cup, which was – in part – testament to the stand-alone Saturday meeting.
Darren Weir, James Cummings and Godolphin, Gai Waterhouse, Ciaron Maher, and the Hayes and Dabernig team were all represented in the crack field – and Our Big Mike, the $11 chance, one-upped the lot of them.
The highly-fancied Kiwia – out of the all-powerful Weir camp – entered the Cup having won most of the country cups on offer this year and was a last-start winner in the Ballarat Cup.
But the five-year-old – part owned by the likes of Gerry Ryan (Jayco and Gumbuya World) and a trio of Melbourne Storm legends; Cam Smith, Billy Slater, and Will Chambers – never really threatened, settled second last, and finished well back in seventh.
Berisha ($10) finished second, just ahead of equal favourite (with Kiwia) Dal Harraild at $3.90.
The result wasn’t just a spectacular one for Phelan and the rest of Our Big Mike’s connections. Jockey Jye McNeil wasn’t even set for the ride, but got the late call-up (and somewhat of an early birthday present) after Noel Callow suffered a fall on Wednesday.
“This is something else, isn’t it?” Phelan told Racing.com in the mounting yard in the immediate aftermath of Pakenham’s biggest race.
He added his horse had been set for the Pakenham Cup all along.
“We thought we’d just target all the country cups,” he said, with more than a tinge of emotion in his voice.
“But this one’s a bit special, alright.
“He just keeps cruising at that same rate all day.
“What a huge thrill.”
Phelan added that his son, Shaun, and his partner Emily (Farr) are jumps jockeys back in New Zealand.
“They gave me a kick in the backside and said ‘get over there dad, we’ve got to chase some of these country cups’ so I owe a huge thank you to them.”
McNeil’s first thoughts post-race were with Callow, before going on to analyse the win – telling Racing.com: “The key to today’s win was that he began well. There was good speed on paper and once he got to the front I knew he’d be hard to run down.”
Phelan said he hadn’t thought any further than the Pakenham Cup when it came to his plans for Our Big Mike.
“We haven’t thought any further than this,” he said.
“Our heads are up in the clouds at the moment.”
Sportsbet ambassador and former Western Bulldogs and Richmond AFL star Nathan Brown was on-hand to present the cup to Phelan and the connections – praising the Pakenham Cup in the process.
Our Big Mike had career prize-money of $117,319 entering the race. The first-place prize, alone, for the Cup was $180,000.
Also on Cup Day, the Grahame Begg-trained Beauty Way – with Luke Currie on-board – took out Race 6 on the card, the $100,000 Schweppes David Bourke Memorial Handicap, which holds a special place in the heart of those involved with the Pakenham Racing Club. Mr Bourke was just 19 when he replaced his father as the Pakenham Racing Club’s secretary, and was the youngest person to ever assume the role of secretary of a Victorian race club – a record that still stands today. He had a lifelong involvement with the Pakenham Racing Club, and his legacy remains.
Cranbourne pair Michael Kent (trainer) and Craig Williams (jockey) took out Race 8, the $150,000 Racing.com VOBIS Gold Bullion with Amadeus.
All told, over $1 million in total prize-money and trophies was awarded on the day.
For much more on Pakenham Cup Day, pick up a copy of this week’s Pakenham-Berwick Gazette – out first thing Wednesday morning.