Surprise Baby's stunning ascent from Horsham to the 2019 Melbourne Cup

Jockey Jordan Childs and trainer Paul Preusker with Surprise Baby after winning the Bart Cummings on October 5. Picture: REG RYAN/RACING PHOTOS
Jockey Jordan Childs and trainer Paul Preusker with Surprise Baby after winning the Bart Cummings on October 5. Picture: REG RYAN/RACING PHOTOS

Owner John Fiteni and trainer Paul Preusker saw something in Surprise Baby that nobody else could.

Overlooked by buyers at the sales, Mr Fiteni bought the New Zealand-bred gelding online for just $NZ5,500.

Little more than two years later, the stayer will compete against some of the most expensive horses in the world in Australia's most prestigious horse race.

Preusker was in New Zealand at the time Mr Fiteni purchased the horse, and visited to see if it was worth the gamble.

"We were just making sure he was worth the plane flight home," Preusker said.

"It probably cost more to fly him home than to buy him.

"He wasn't a special looking horse, but a nice, straight, tough looking horse. The rest is sort of a bit of patience and a bit of hard work."

Surprise Baby immediately impressed Preusker back at his Horsham stables, showing a natural talent befitting of its pedigree as the son of 2009 Melbourne Cup winner Shocking.

But the mental side of the equation still needed sorting out.

"We gave him one gallop and I thought, 'by gee, he's a real good galloper,'" Preusker said.

"But he was mentally all over the place. We sent him to Greg Daffey's at Balmoral and let him spell there for quite a bit, and kept giving him preps and putting it all together."

"I remember at the time I thought it was fit to go a mile first up ... but I think I gave him a jumpout and he was a touch aggressive, so I thought I'll give him a 1200 at Horsham and make sure he hits the line strong," Preusker said.

"He jumped strong, and was too strong all the way."

12 months later, Surprise Baby made another appearance at the Horsham Cup. This time, he galloped around the track in an exhibition run, allowing spectators a first hand look at a racehorse capturing the nation's attention.

Surprise Baby at the 2019 Horsham Cup. Picture: MATT CURRILL

Surprise Baby at the 2019 Horsham Cup. Picture: MATT CURRILL

While Preusker was bullish about his potential from the start, Surprise Baby truly staked his claim as a Melbourne Cup candidate at the Adelaide Cup in March.

Now, ahead of the Melbourne Cup, the horse carries not just the weight of Horsham, but the hopes of a nation.

Surprise Baby, Vow and Declare and Finche are the only three Australian-trained horses in with a chance to upset the international-heavy field, according to bookmakers.

On Sunday afternoon, of the 12 horses paying less than $20, only three were trained in Australia.

"That's the disappointing part, you want to see more Australian horses in it. But it's bloody hard to qualify them," Preusker said.

For Surprise Baby to even be in the conversation ahead of its 11th start is already a remarkable achievement.

"I guess it's intimidating to consider the worth of the horses competing," Preusker said.

"But I suppose ... the horse doesn't know what its purchase price was, and he's thinking like a winner, so we'll run with that."

Preusker said it was something he would always be proud of, regardless of the result today. And while the Melbourne Cup will be the experience of a lifetime, Surprise Baby's best could still be yet to come.

"This is a great story for Australia - he's a $5000 horse," Preusker said.

"It's been a big trip for him to get here, and next year hopefully he comes back an even better horse."

This story Cup hope Surprise Baby is one for romantics first appeared on The Wimmera Mail-Times.