THE Ballarat Cup is headed across the Tasman after a thrilling finish saw six horse cross the line within half-a-length of one another.
For New Zealand's Irish Flame ($18), which was originally the first emergency for the race, the wide barrier proved no obstacle when it crossed the line first in a blanket finish.
Despite sitting three wide and hitting the lead a long way from the line, Irish Flame held on to deny favourite Affair To Remember ($3.90 fav) by a half-head with Game Keeper ($20) the same margin away third.
For jockey Michael Walker, who accepted the Ballarat Cup on behalf of the owners, it was a win full of merit, but a win made a lot harder thanks to a horse that has an uncanny ability to stop when he gets to the front.
"We came here with a lot of confidence he'd run well," Walker, who spoke to The Courier straight after the race.
"I don't know if you can notice looking on, but when he gets to the front he pulls up a bit and often when he has been beaten, it's because he's pulled up.
"He had at least three or four lengths up his sleeve, but for some reason he waits for them.
"He's a funny one that you've just got to time your run on him, but when they quickened when they did, I just had to go for him, so when he got to the front, I just thought, 'oh no here we go again', and they got to me before the post.
"But when they got to him, he quickened again, I actually thought he held them quite easy in the end."
For Walker, the former jumps jockey, who has only been able to ride on the flat since a pigging accident saw him fall 70 metres down on a cliff in 2008, said he felt blessed every time he was able to take the saddle.
"I have to thank the owners from over in New Zealand, who are from the town where my kids live in, so it's a special moment for me, and they've always been good to me to put me on their horses," he said.
"I've got to thank my partner Lauren at home and my son Ky, hopefully they got to see it. They are my biggest and best supporters."
He said despite the lack of crowds throughout Victoria's Spring Carnival, the racing had been as pure as you would see.
"We're going to be like this for a long time, it's just something we have to get used to," he said.
"I have to congratulate Racing Victoria for the way they've handled things and kept us going. The track here is beautiful, they've put plenty of juice on it, the way the track played was based on tempo."