The northern summer has become a key period for internationally-based Spring Carnival hopefuls to stake their claim for a Melbourne sojourn with strong performances.
Yesterday, the Moonee Valley Racing Club won the attention of racing’s biggest owners and trainers when it invited 20 of the world’s best middle-distance gallopers for October 26’s Cox Plate.
No horse from outside Australasia has won the Cox Plate but the number of international winners of the Melbourne and Caulfield Cups is increasing on an almost yearly basis.
So with many Cup players entered in next week’s Royal Ascot meeting in England now is the time to name a handful of international horses for Roarers to keep an eye on as the spring approaches.
When Justin Cinque attempted this exercise last July, he came up with Mount Athos (eventual Melbourne Cup favourite), Simenon (didn’t make the trip to Australia), Gatewood (eventual Geelong Cup winner) and Red Cadeaux (eighth in the Melbourne Cup but eventual winner of the Hong Kong vase).
Mount Athos was also a horse I was very keen on early, and it all looked great for Justin and I until a muddling pace and an inept Ryan Moore ride
This year, I’ve joined Justin in trying to nail the Melbourne Cup winner in June. Hopefully, we are referring to this in November, glad to have assisted any Roarers keen to have an early Melbourne Cup flutter in the middle of winter!
Justin Cinque: Mount Athos
I’ll tell you right now Mount Athos is the horse to beat in this year’s Melbourne Cup and I know Andrew is very keen on this guy as well (he wanted to write about him just as much me).
Mount Athos was a super fifth in last year’s Melbourne Cup and he’s already confirmed to be back this spring.
I was all over Mount Athos last year because he had the profile of an international Melbourne Cup winner – well handicapped, progressive and armed with a major weapon, that is, outstanding acceleration.
The beauty about the 2013 version of Mount Athos (a rising seven-year old) is that he’s an improved racehorse.
In his only outing this European season, Mount Athos showcased newfound versatility when waltzing away with the Ormonde Stakes (Group 3, about 2600m) at Chester by nine lengths.
It wasn’t a strong race but similarly impressive winners at Chester (also against weak fields) – Magician and Ruler of the World subsequently won the Irish Guineas and English Derby. The Chester form has been outstanding this year.
Mount Athos, a usual back-maker, led that day and he showed a liking to deteriorating ground – for many months we were told Mount Athos wasn’t at his best in the wet and I’ve never seen him lead before.
If Mount Athos can continue to settle closer in his races, he becomes a really reliable commodity in a Melbourne Cup.
In my opinion, the only reason he didn’t win the Cup last year was because the pace of the race was too slow – coming from a long-way back Mount Athos had too much to do in a tempo-dominated affair. That weakness may be out of his game.
Next Saturday, Mount Athos will compete in a strong renewal of the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot where he could meet Group 1 winners St Nicholas Abbey and Dunaden.
I’m confident he can compete with the best at weight-for-age and that makes him a dangerous horse in the Cup with 55/56kgs.
They key to picking a Melbourne Cup player out of obscurity (and Songcraft isn’t even in Cup markets) is the belief that a certain horse can improve several lengths on their recent form so that they can a) get into the Melbourne Cup and b) outperform their handicap in the race.
As a lightly-raced rising six-year old Songcraft fits that billing – he could be the right smoky. Last season, his form mixed in well with the likes of My Quest For Peace (fifth Caulfield Cup) and Gatewood (Geelong Cup winner).
Songcraft only needs to find a few lengths to be a serious Cups contender. And because he’s still relatively untapped and was victorious in his only start this season, my gut is screaming “Cups horse!”
Last month, he won in Listed grade (his first Stakes victory) at York over 2800m in a small field – last year Cavalryman won the same race before finishing 12th in the Melbourne Cup when given little chance.
Songcraft, in the hands of Godolphin, is unbeaten in two starts when racing past a distance of 2500m. He is entered for both the Gold Cup (4000m, Group 1) and Hardwicke (2400m, Group 2) at Royal Ascot next week.
I’d prefer to see Songcraft in the Hardwicke (the Gold Cup is never a good Cups guide) and if he can finish in the top six, I’d say he’s on track for the Melbourne Cup considering a rise in distance and the handicap conditions will be to his advantage.
It’s worth remembering that after last year’s Hardwicke Stakes, Fiorente (sixth) and Jakkalberry (fifth) went on to finish second and third in the Melbourne Cup.
Andrew Hawkins: Now We Can
To me, Now We Can probably rates as France’s best chance of winning the Melbourne Cup for the third time.
Owned by Hong Kong Jockey Club chairman Winfried Englebrecht-Bresges, this son of Martillo is likely to be aimed at the Hong Kong Vase at the end of the year.
Given the last two winners of the Vase have come through the Melbourne Cup, our great race looms as a target for him.
Lightly raced, he’s won five of his six starts. He won from 2400m to 3000m last year, before stepping up in company this season.
At his seasonal return, he won the Listed Prix Lord Seymour (2400m) comfortably. It is a race won last year by Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Solemia and which has been contested in the past by the likes of Brigantin and Shahwardi.
He then stepped up to Group 2 level for the first time, passing the ballot clause for the Melbourne Cup with his head victory.
For mine, he looks to be untapped and very much in the mould of Dunaden before he made the trip to Australia. He looks to have a turn of foot, but can also stay – the perfect attributes for a Melbourne Cup.
Just don’t expect Chris Munce to be offered the ride!
I’d say it’s unlikely we’ll see this galloper here, but if Novellist were to make the journey, I’d be very keen on his prospects.
A German galloper who was named champion three year old in Italy and co-champion three year old in Germany last year, he won his first four starts by huge margins before he suffered his first defeat at the hands of Pastorius in the German Derby.
He finished fourth to Arc winner Danedream in Germany’s most prestigious race, the Grosser Preis von Baden at Baden-Baden – for a career-worst effort, that was some performance!
His trainer Andreas Wohler is noted as one of the world’s great travellers of horses, having brought Silvano (4th, 2001 Cox Plate) and Paolini (10th, 2004 Cox Plate).
He looks to be more of a 2400m type, and perhaps even the Cox Plate would be more suitable than the Melbourne Cup. But he is the type of horse I would be targeting for sure, as he has class, a turn of foot and wouldn’t be punished at the weights.
Even if he doesn’t make the trip, the form around him is likely to be tested in Melbourne. Waldpark and Salon Soldier, second and sixth respectively to Novellist last start, have both been bought by Australian Bloodstock and will be seen down under this spring.
There are already form links though – at his final start in 2012, he defeated Australian Derby and Rosehill Guineas runner up Retrieve by almost five lengths in an Italian Group 1.