Delighted trainer Alex Rae (Image: Racing Photos)
When Racing Victoria and the Victoria Racing Club devised the Melbourne Cup Carnival Country Series, there might have been two types of trainers they thought best served by the concept.
Veteran trainers who had been light on for Cup Week experience, as was seen in last year's initial series when Frank Doderico had his first Flemington starter at the age of 87, or young country trainers who could do with an avenue to racing's biggest stage.
At 23 years of age, Alex Rae is one of Victoria's youngest licensed trainers and was granted a fairytale Flemington introduction via this year's series.
Rae celebrated victory with his first runner at Australian racing's most famous venue during the biggest week of the year when Cochada took out Thursday's $200,000 final.
It prompted the young Cranbourne trainer to consider whether things could get any better.
"It's the first runner I've had here at Flemington and I'm happy to leave it at that, one from one," he said with a chuckle, before adding: "Nah, I'll be back."
He was back in the mounting yard two races later, when Port Royal ran an encouraging fifth placing in the $150,000 Listed TCL TV Stakes.
Rae, who obtained his trainer's licence in December 2016 and has 10 in work, defeated the dominant force in Victorian racing, and last year's Melbourne Cup Carnival Country Final-winning trainer Darren Weir, with $4.60 favourite Cochada holding a two-length margin over Superhard ($5.50) at the end of the 1600-metre event.
Stealthy Lucas ($21), prepared by Paul Preusker at Horsham, was three-quarters of a length away in third, with $8.50 chance Akkadian (Matt Cumani, Ballarat) and $31 roughie Lady Cromac (Kevin Corstens, Cranbourne) rounding out the top five.
The Country Series is for trainers who do not have a metropolitan training base, with heats conducted throughout Victoria during October.
The first two from each heat progress to the Kennedy Oaks Day Final and Rae and connections were lucky it was not only for winners after Cochada was surprisingly beaten by Toosbuy in his heat at Sale.
That only added to Rae's nerves and he was thrilled to get an opportunity to show his talents during the biggest week of the year.
"This series is fantastic, I've only got a small team and there's a few trainers in that race in the same position, so to give us an opportunity to race for such lucrative prizemoney is a credit to Racing Victoria really," he said.
Craig Williams produced a stunning ride from the second-widest barrier to get Cochada home and while the star jockey has won many big races at Flemington, including last Saturday's Group 1 Kennedy Mile aboard Best Of Days, he got a kick out of playing his part in Rae's biggest win to date.
"Credit to Alex, he's a young trainer who's only got a handful of horses but he's shown maturity beyond his years in placing this horse," he said.
The Melbourne Cup Carnival Country Final victory was the first leg of a running double for Williams, who followed up with a blowout win aboard $41 chance Thermal Current in the $150,000 Listed Absolut Stakes (1000m).