Craig Williams returns to the mounting yard on Vow And Declare after winning the Lexus Melbourne Cup , at Flemington Racecourse on November 05, 2019 in Flemington, Australia. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos)

Fairy-tale journey from unwanted yearling to Melbourne Cup hero

Unwanted at the 2017 Inglis Sales, Vow And Declare has fully repaid the faith shown in him by trainer Danny O’Brien and his loyal band of owners – to the tune of $5,722,690.

The chestnut son of Declaration Of War was passed in at the sales after potential buyers declined to meet the $60,000 purchase price set by his breeder, Paul Lanskey.

Instead Lanskey, a Noosa-based businessman, decided to cobble together a ragtag syndicate, many of whom had never dabbled in racehorse ownership before. 

One of them was his nephew, Anthony, whose day job involves controlling unruly students as the principal of Gympie State High School.

He floated the idea to his friend Bob Leitch, Gympie’s deputy mayor, who took a two per cent share and soon enough the horse had been divided between 13 investors including the former Labor Party politician, Geoff Corrigan (35 per cent).

Initially, the investment didn’t appear a particularly shrewd one, with Vow And Declare – described as “clumsy” by his trainer in the early stages of his career – failing to make an impact in his first two racetrack appearances.

But a placing in a Bendigo maiden last September showed glimpses of his talent, and he landed a first win two starts later at Warrnambool.

After a second successive victory – this time on Kennedy Oaks Day at Flemington, no less – his group of owners dared to dream that, one day, their boy might land a major race. 

“We probably questioned our decision when he didn’t run a place in his first couple of starts,” Anthony Lanskey told the Gympie Times.

“It wasn’t until he won on Oaks Day this time last year that we thought, ‘hang on, we might have something good on our hands here’.”

Those dreams became a reality 363 days later, when Vow And Declare – under a masterful ride by Craig Williams – held off the foreign invasion to take out Australian racing’s most prestigious prize.

“It’s been one hell of a ride, I can tell you that,” said Leitch.

“The emotions flowed over when he passed the post, he’s such a genuine horse. He always gives his all, and Danny has done such a great job with him.”

At the 50-metre mark, as the hordes of European stayers lined up to attack the sole Australian representative fighting out the finish, Lanskey feared their chance had gone.

“To be honest, I thought he’d run his race because he looked spent,” he said.

“But then he seemed to find more and he just kept going all the way to the line. I couldn’t believe it, he’s such a fighter and I know I’m biased, but I thought he really deserved to win.”

With O’Brien already plotting a path towards next year’s Lexus Melbourne Cup, and even talk of a future trip to compete at Royal Ascot, the ride of a lifetime is not even close to finishing yet.