Start of Melbourne Cup confirmed for Johnny Get Angry as Damien Oliver convinces coach Denis Pagan
Legendary football coach turned horse trainer Denis Pagan’s Melbourne Cup dream is alive.
- Two-time AFL Premiership coach Denis Pagan coached Johnny Get Angry to a victory at last year’s Victoria Derby
- Three-time Melbourne Cup winner Damien Oliver advised Pagan to race the horse in the Cup after a track race
- Melbourne Cup jockey Lachie King hopes to emulate his father Steven’s 1991 victory
The 74-year-old, who coached Johnny Get Angry to a stunning Victoria Derby victory last year, felt “ambivalent” about the form of the four-year-old gelding ahead of next week’s Cup.
But when champion jockey Damien Oliver took Johnny Get Angry galloping to Flemington this morning, Pagan decided to throw his hat in the ring for the first time.
“I asked (Oliver) after the gallop and he recommended that I throw him in the Cup,” Pagan told ABC Sport.
Pagan described it as a “dream” to race in the Cup.
“It probably hasn’t sunk yet and I probably still have four or five sleeps before that materializes,” he said.
“You just don’t know what’s going to happen. With a racehorse, it can fall the next day, get injured in the box, so you just have to roll with the punches and take it as it comes. “
Pagan, who coached North Melbourne to two AFL championships in the 1990s, had only been a horse trainer for six months when Johnny Get Angry – the first horse he bought – made history in winning the Group One Victoria Derby in October 2020.
“At this time last year I was in the Derby with this horse. It was a hundred to one,” said Pagan.
“We had lunch on the Friday before Derby Day, we probably stayed there a bit long, got home at half past six, we weren’t even thinking about [the] Derby.
“I got up the next morning, took two showers. Still dusty. I went to work on the track, got home, took a nap and went to the races. ‘is just unrolled.
“Simply amazing. I’ve never done anything like this in my life. It just worked.”
Horses qualify for the Melbourne Cup based on wins in ballot-exempt races (automatic qualification) or weight assigned by the HRV’s head handicapper.
Johnny Get Angry’s victory at the Victoria Derby meant he had been given enough weight to place him seventh in this year’s Melbourne Cup entry order, securing him a spot on the pitch.
Young jockey Lachie King, who led Johnny Get Angry to victory in the Victoria Derby, will be riding the horse again on Tuesday.
Pagan broke the good news to King in the Flemington parking lot this morning.
“It was just good between Damien and me, and Damien explaining the horse gallop to Lachie,” said Pagan.
“I think (Lachie’s) words were, ‘I’m pumped. “”
It’s not just Pagan who wants to make history next week – King’s father Steven claimed victory over Let’s Elope in the 1991 Melbourne Cup.
If successful, the Kings would join Billy and Peter Cook as the only father-son combination to straddle the two Melbourne Cup winners – Billy led Skipton to victory in 1941 and won over Rainbird in 1945, while his son Peter won the race on Just A Dash in 1981.
The venue for this year’s Melbourne Cup will be distinctly local with a drastically reduced number of international horses racing.
“All I worry about is my horse is doing well and I can’t be too worried about the other horses,” said Pagan.
Pagan was generally pragmatic when asked about his chances of winning the Cup.
“I have never seen anyone racing seated in the grandstand,” he said.
“Que Sera Sera: what will be, will be.”