Courtesy of RON REED - Sunday Herald Sun - 28/02/15 - FOR one of the most dominant winners of the Melbourne Cup — not merely the most recent one — Protectionist was a long way from the life of the party after his comeback to the coalface on Saturday.
That, though, certainly didn't mean there was no party. There was a lot to enjoy about the weight-for-age Group 2 Peter Young Stakes at Caulfield, won by Mourinho.
Peter Gelagotis and his brother Manny — the trainer and stable manager — are always enthusiastic celebrators after they bag a good race and it was no different this time.
And the runner-up, Happy Trails, is such a popular horse because he is always an honest contender and gave another great sight, just failing to provide Damien Oliver with a running treble.
But with due respect to both those fine gallopers, it was Protectionist who created an air of expectation that resulted in punters backing him into $2.90 favourite to beat them both.
As it transpired, the German import was never going to do that, travelling towards the rear for most of the 1800m trip — not much more than half the Melbourne Cup journey — before coming home hard in sixth place.
It was only the second time in his 11 starts that he has failed to run a place and the only other one was his similar fast finishing Australian debut in the Herbert Power Handicap at the same track on the way to his memorable Cup triumph.
Jockey Craig Williams — who rode him then and again this time, although sadly for him not in the Cup — confirmed the horse was not at home on the track.
So it will take something a lot worse than that for him to start losing his new friends.
It is 116 days since the Cup and it is easy to forget just how impressive he was, the four-length margin over perennial runner-up Red Cadeaux the biggest for a decade and the time of 3min17.71sec the fastest since Media Puzzle in 2002 and the fourth fastest overall.
On reflection, handicapper and racing guru Greg Carpenter suggested the other day it was as good as any of Makybe Diva's legendary hat-trick, adding: "He is a wonderful young stayer with so much ahead of him."
Protectionist is still only five, and has now raced just three times in Australia, so there is plenty of scope for Carpenter to be proven correct, as he usually is.
Nobody will be hoping so more than trainer Kris Lees, who has inherited him from Andreas Wohler's German stable.
Lees was not immune from the sense of expectation before the race, saying it was unavoidable _ and observing that the horse seemed to have adapted to his new life in a warmer climate.
Afterwards, he seemed lost in thought — unsure whether he would proceed with plans to tackle the Australian Cup back at Flemington in a fortnight and then the BMW in Sydney.
"It was how we thought he would go — strong late," Lees said. "It was not his target race so we will see how he pulls up.
"Flemington will suit him better but whether that was a run to win the Australian Cup, we will have to see.
"He doesn't get around the corners here — he didn't in the Herbert Power and Craig said he didn't here.
"But he ran on. He's on track."
Standing beside him, Carpenter saw no reason to disagree.