LLOYD WILLIAMS is in pursuit of a fourth Melbourne Cup and the influential owner's latest import, Green Moon, is now fully qualified for the November 1 race after a stunning staying performance to win yesterday's Newcastle Gold Cup.
The task was made a little easier after last year's Melbourne Cup runner-up, Maluckyday, was yesterday withdrawn from all spring engagements, including Saturday's Underwood Stakes at Caulfield, due to a virus.
RaceTAB announced it will refund $35,000 punters invested on Maluckyday after it offered $30 about him winning the Melbourne Cup.
Green Moon was given a nerveless ride from Brenton Avdulla, who replaced a sick Nicholas Hall, and in so doing landed a betting plunge as the horse firmed from $7 to $4.40.
''He has 50 kilograms in the Cup, probably won't have it tomorrow,'' Williams's son and part-owner, Nick, said yesterday. ''That was an incredibly tough staying performance. An incredible performance to jump from the outside fence and do all the work … he did not have one bit of luck in the run.''
Last time out, Green Moon chased home December Draw, which is set to strengthen his claim for favouritism for the Caulfield Cup by winning tomorrow's Naturalism Stakes at Caulfield. Team Williams will start another import, At First Sight, in the Naturalism.
''One thing I know is that [Green Moon's win] makes December Draw look good,'' Williams said.
From barrier 17, Avdulla steered a direct course down the straight the first time before crossing to park outside the leader.
''They said, keep him rolling, keep him improving,'' Avdulla said. ''From the half mile I started to bore it up him. He was only doing enough, they got to his girth and he kept going.''
Green Moon had a head to spare from Home On A Wing,which survived a protest from the third-placed Gazza Guru.
The Gai Waterhouse-trained favourite Essence Of Success finished last after travelling three wide without cover throughout for Chris Munce. Waterhouse had earlier teamed up with stable jockey Nash Rawiller, who was returning from suspension, to claim the Tibbie Stakes with the John Singleton home-bred More Strawberries.
''Happy to get it [win] out of the way,'' Rawiller said. On dismounting, he chatted with Singleton's racing manager, Duncan Grimley. ''What I really liked, she dug deep, she was there to be caught,'' Rawiller said.
Grimley said More Strawberries would go to the Epsom Handicap, where she has 52kg.
While bookies were left reeling after the Green Moon plonk, there was relief when Nathan Berry guided Second String home at odds of $71 in the last. On Wednesday, Berry won the last race at Newcastle on the $81 shot The Paymaster.