UPDATED 5:20pm: Horsham trainer Paul Preusker is proud of his first runner at the Melbourne Cup.
Preusker told the Wimmera Mail-Times post-race that a rough start and a slow pace hurt Surprise Baby's chances.
"You want them to jump and settle. It was an option to just settle the horse, and we just got shuffled a little too far back (at the start)," Preusker said.
"In the middle stages of the race, they backed it off.
"They ran it too slow which just made it real hard for us.
"(But) I'm proud of the horse, and rider and the whole team around it."
Preusker said the fifth-place finish - worthy of $230,000 in prizemoney - was a good sign of things to come.
Preusker agreed that if the race was another 100 metres, Surprise Baby probably would have won the grand prize.
"It's onto next year now - we'll camp him up and come up with another plan and go from there," Preusker said.
"I'll stay in Melbourne tonight, have a few beers and something good to eat, then it's back to reality, you know?"
Surprise Baby has already opened as a $21 favourite to win the 2020 Melbourne Cup with some betting agencies.
Horsham District Racing president Jason Merlo was in Melbourne for the big race, but said he would have "loved" to be in Horsham.
"If you were at the Vic, or the Exchange, or the TAB, it would have been going off," Mr Merlo said.
"The way it was coming home. It got that little bump coming around the turn.
"I reckon if it had have been another 30 or 50 metres, it might have been close."
UPDATED 4.10pm: It might not have placed, but Horsham's Surprise Baby proved its worth as a world-class racehorse at Tuesday's Melbourne Cup.
Paul Preusker's lightly-raced gelding seized the outside and flew by its competitors across the final straight at Flemington to finish in fifth place. It was less than two lengths behind winner Vow and Declare, who won in a photo finish.
Horsham's great hope got off to a shaky start. From barrier 20, Surprise Baby took time to settle in the biggest race of its short carrier, and raced past the Flemington crowd for the first time in second last.
The only advantage of its position was a wide open outside that jockey Jordan Childs could later exploit.
Surprise Baby eventually settled and showed why it was so highly rated pre-race. The odds had tightened for the five-year-old before the jump to as little as $10 with some trackside bookies.
Turning into the final 450 metres, it was still near the back end of the field. But the final straight provided a jolt of excitement that is sure to reverberate around the Wimmera for days to come.
Surprise Baby took the outside and raced by most of the competition, eventually finishing a length-and-a-half behind first place.
Most impressively, the horse seemed to still have more to give. With another 100 metres, the Melbourne Cup could well have been coming home to Horsham.
While the race got off to a bad start, so ,too, did Preusker's day. The racing team reportedly got stuck in traffic on the journey from Horsham to Flemington, with Surprise Baby in danger of overheating in his float.
Preusker even considered taking the horse out and walking it to the stalls, but fortunately the traffic got moving in fine time.
For someone who had faced such a stressful build-up, Preusker seemed at ease before the race.
Preusker hung around Surprise Baby's stall prior, happily shaking the hand of every well-wisher supporting one of Australia's best stayers.
As Preusker said before the race, to simply qualify for the Cup was a "dream come true". To have one finish in the top five is something he will never forget.
Meanwhile, Wimmera residents have paid tribute to Surprise Baby's Melbourne Cup run.
Prominent Wimmera horse trainer Majella Ballantine wrote on the Mail-Times' Facebook page: "Phenomenal run. No luck in the run - getting back off a slow pace and forced wide, storming home to be beaten a mere length. Extraordinary effort by Paul Preusker and his staff."
Sam Rintoule, whose father Dallas was a well-known race photographer in the Wimmera, declared Surprise Baby's run the best of the race.
Anne Puls said "time to be proud Horsham" while Michelle Christopher declared the race as "awesome", Jackie Moore said the result was great for Australian racing.
Many lamented the barrier draw.
Len Coffey wrote: "Great effort, Paul, next year and a good barrier and you going to win a Melbourne Cup."
Many are already looking to the 2020 Cup and Surprise Baby's chances then.
UK form analyst Rory Flanagan wrote on Twitter: "Surprise Baby has covered the most ground, gone around the whole field, off a crawl, and absolutely rocketed home to be beaten half a length in the Melbourne Cup. Best horse in the race by an absolute mile."
UPDATED 3.45pm: Australian-trained Vow And Declare has held off the international challenge to win the Melbourne Cup, giving jockey Craig Williams his first success in Australia's greatest race.
One of the most inexperienced horses in the Cup, Vow And Declare defeated Irish stayer Master Of Reality with English-trained Prince Of Arran finishing third.
Williams famously missed the winning ride on the French-trained Dunaden in the 2011 Melbourne Cup because of suspension.
In a desperate finish involving four horses, the Danny O'Brien-trained Vow And Declare took an inside run and put his head down when it counted to win in a photo finish.
Master Of Reality looked set to give jockey Frankie Dettori his first win, shooting clear at the 200m before just failing to hold off the winner.
"I have to thank everyone around me that has touched my life throughout my career and given me advice, confidence and they're all a part of this win," Williams said.
O'Brien said the race didn't work out for Vow And Declare.
"It wasn't a race that was going to plan ... but he's a great horse, he's got great stamina," O'Brien said.
Il Paradiso was fourth across the line and protested against the runner-up for interference late in the race.
Williams has now completed the grand slam of Australian racing after winning the Golden Slipper, Cox Plate and Caulfield during a decorated career.
EARLIER: Horsham-trained star Surprise Baby has finished fifth in the Melbourne Cup.
Melbourne turned it on for the race that stops a nation, providing perfect weather for punters and horses alike after several rainy days in the build-up to Tuesday's race.
Surprise Baby, the Paul Preusker-trained five-year-old, was tightened to $12 odds in the market prior to the jump, competing against the best racehorses across the world.
Feeling a litany of mixed emotions, but ultimately I am simply excited to be a part of Horsham history.— Richard Crabtree (@richard_crab) November 5, 2019
The town's first runner, and a genuine chance to win it all. Carrying the hopes of the Wimmera and the hopes of a nation. Let's go Baby @Wim_Mail_Timespic.twitter.com/uThryD5zW7
Jockey Jordan Childs earned the ride from barrier 18. The horse placed fifth of the 24-horse, $8 million race.
Vow And Declare, the only Australian-bred horse in the race, took first place in a tight finish, with Master of Reality second ahead of Prince of Arran and Il Paradiso, who needed a photo finish to split them.
Preusker said prior to the race that simply having a competitor in the prestigious race was a "dream come true".
Surprise Baby came from the clouds to compete in the Cup, having run its maiden race little more than 12 months ago at the Horsham Cup.
Tuesday was just the gelding's 11th start.
It's something every trainer dreams of - a runner in the race that stops a nation.
Horsham trainer Paul Preusker's dream comes true on Tuesday with his stable star Surprise Baby.
Surprise Baby qualified for the Melbourne Cup after storming to victory in the Bart Cummings, tightening in the market as a $9 favourite for Australia's most prestigious horse race.
The five-year-old's odds have since drifted with bookmakers, as it deals with additional weight and contends against a star-studded international field.
But for Preusker, having a runner in the Cup is already a dream come true.
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.
City's horse hope
Surprise Baby will be the first Melbourne Cup runner trained in Horsham, and the Wimmera's racing enthusiasts are throwing their support behind Australia's great hope.
Stawell-based trainer Terry O'Sullivan would know how Preusker is feeling. Terry and Karina O'Sullivan had Dolphin Joe compete at two Melbourne Cups in 2006 and 2007.
Meanwhile, Horsham Rural City mayor Mark Radford said it was an occasion worthy of putting Horsham on the map.
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