The department of youth was to the fore in the Melbourne Cup with the youngest trainer and jockey combination in the race, Joseph O’Brien and Jye McNeil, scoring with Twilight Payment.
It was the 27-year-old Irish-based O’Brien’s second victory and 25-year-old Melbourne jockey McNeil’s first at what was his maiden ride in the race.
On the ownership side though, it was 80-year-old Lloyd Williams again winning the race for a record seventh time.
O’Brien has only been training for four years and has now won two Melbourne Cups.
But at Flemington on Tuesday, the 2020 edition was all about the quietly spoken and popular McNeil.
McNeil’s win lit up the course and on his return to scale, all the jockeys who hadn’t ridden in the Melbourne Cup lined the mounting yard to applaud him, as did trainer Ciaron Maher.
And it was a ride with a difference with Twilight Payment leading from the outset to become the first horse since Might And Power in 1997 to dictate throughout and win.
McNeil, who hails from Kerang, has been one of racing’s quiet achievers over the past couple of years but his improvement was noted by Williams, who booked him to ride Twilight Payment three months ago.
The win was only McNeil’s second at Group One level, his other coming in the 2019 Turnbull Stakes on Kings Will Dream.
Co-owner Nick Williams described his father as a genius in picking out McNeil.
“Dad said to me about two or three months ago when there was doubts about the Sydney jockeys, who could come and who couldn’t, he said, ‘I’ve booked Jye McNeil for Twilight Payment, he is the best young jockey in this country’,” Williams said.
“Dad’s a genius and his view was right, the ride won the race and he rode it exactly as Joseph told him to.
“You’ve got to get it right when you ride like that in front. It wasn’t a pretty ride but none of the great European jockeys could have ridden him any better.”
McNeil said he spoke to O’Brien pre-race and the instructions were to lead throughout.
He admitted he had plenty of thoughts running through his mind over the final stages when he heard Tiger Moth and then Prince Of Arran chasing.
“I had to be careful with the whip and not use it too many times,” McNeil said.
“Also, I was trying to use my voice to encourage him as much as possible. It was a matter of hanging on and he was very tough.
“I was trying to be very vocal. It’s been a lifetime dream.”
McNeil and his partner, former jockey Jess Payne, recently celebrated the birth of their son, Oakley, on August 1.
“Jess and the boy, Oakley, will be watching from home today,” McNeil said.
“Unfortunately they couldn’t be here. I’m sure that they, along with a lot of other people, will be very proud.”