The racing world continues to get smaller, and as the deadline nears for international horses wanting to come to Australia for the Melbourne spring, one eye must be kept on races from all over the globe.
While all the focus was on Puissance de Lune’s last to first effort in the Group 2 Lawrence Stakes (1400m) on Saturday, shrewd punters had their eyes on the northern hemisphere for a glimpse at this year’s potential international raiders.
As the major races draw ever closer, the time for decisions to be made beckons.
The first batch of raiders goes into quarantine on September 12, just three weeks from Thursday.
The four major races of note over the weekend were the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes (2671m) at Newbury, the non-black type American St Leger (2716m) and the Group 1 Arlington Million (2012m) in Chicago, and the Group 2 Prix Kergorlay (3000m) at Deauville.
All produced potential Melbourne aspirants across all three majors – the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup.
I’ve broken down each race and looked at what we may have learnt looking towards the spring.
Geoffrey Freer Stakes
Godolphin’s continual attempts to win the Melbourne Cup almost form a modern-day rendition of the quest for the holy grail.
The world’s largest operation have three vacant spots in their trophy cabinet in Dubai, reserved for three of the world’s major races that have continued to elude Sheikh Mohammed’s horses.
They are the Melbourne Cup, the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Godolphin first sent a runner to Melbourne in 1998, when Faithful Son finished a weakening seventh to Jezabeel.
Since then, they’ve had a runner most years, although they weren’t represented from 2005 to 2008 despite bringing horses to Melbourne every year except 2007.
They’ve managed three seconds – with Central Park (1999), Give The Slip (2001) and Crime Scene (2009) – and a third with Beekeeper (2002).
But still, they haven’t been able to win.
This year, their assault is to be spearheaded by Royal Empire, a progressive four year old who only stepped up past 1m 3f (2200m) for the first time in the Geoffrey Freer.
You’d never have guessed it, though, as he ran right through the line to post a dominant win over Red Cadeaux, to whom he was conceding six pounds (2.72kg).
Bred to be a middle distance galloper, Royal Empire is now set to be tried in the world’s premier staying event.
However, he needs to guarantee himself a run first, so another victory may be necessary before weights are released.
His stablemate Lost In The Moment, third in the Freer, may also be set for a return to Melbourne for the third year in a row.
A fairly good sixth to Dunaden in the 2011 Cup when he was in the worst part of the track, Lost In The Moment failed to make last year’s Melbourne Cup.
Instead, he was seen four days later running fifth to Puissance de Lune in the Group 3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2600m).
A quirky horse at the best of times, he has been more consistent than ever this year and probably should have gone close to winning on Saturday.
He’s racing in good form, but just like Royal Empire, he would probably need another Group victory before he leaves Europe if he is to guarantee a run in the Melbourne Cup.
And it wouldn’t be a spring carnival without Red Cadeaux, with the globetrotter set to run in the Melbourne Cup for the third time.
His effort under the big weight was commendable, and he looks well on track for Melbourne. This year, though, he is likely to try and emulate Dunaden as a winner of the Caulfield Cup a year after winning the Hong Kong Vase.
Perhaps he can finally break his Australian maiden at Caulfield.
American St Leger
There were shades of Lonhro’s 2004 Australian Cup win with Dandino’s American St Leger success on Sunday morning.
Boxed in around the home turn, Ryan Moore decided to duck towards the inside in the hope of gaining clear running.
But the leader drifted towards the rail at the same time, checking Dandino and stopping him dead in his tracks.
He was checked again as a horse out wide drifted in, leaving Dandino in a bit of strife.
When he saw daylight, though, he accelerated nicely, taking the lead to win by a half length and showing all the traits necessary for a successful Australian tilt.
This was only the second running of the American St Leger – the first was won by Jakkalberry, last year’s Melbourne Cup third.
Both Dandino and Jakkalberry are owned by Darren and Liz Dance’s Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock.
Before the weekend, both Darren Dance and trainer Marco Botti had indicated the Caulfield Cup would be more suitable for Dandino than the Melbourne Cup.
However, from what I saw on the weekend, I reckon Dandino may be an ideal Melbourne Cup horse.
He will be among the first horses to go into quarantine in three weeks.
Not a race with any bearing on the Melbourne Cup, but an important race from a Cox Plate perspective.
The headlines were dominated by first-past-the-post The Apache losing the race to Real Solution, but two likely Cox Plate runners were also worth watching.
Side Glance, racing for Sheikh Al Thani in the familiar yellow and blue stars silks carried by Dunaden, finished an unlucky third after copping a number of checks entering the straight.
David Redvers, bloodstock agent for Sheikh Al Thani, tweeted immediately after the race that the horse was bound for Melbourne with the Cox Plate his aim.
Side Glance is yet to win at Group 1 level, but his Arlington Million third was his second placing at the highest level after he finished third in Frankel’s timeless Queen Anne victory last year.
The other confirmed visitor is Mull of Killough, who pressured early leader Little Mike but faded on the turn to finish eighth, beaten five and a half lengths.
Trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam, an expatriate Australian and the daughter of former Opposition Leader Andrew Peacock, confirmed Melbourne was still on the agenda for Mull of Killough despite his poor run.
If the local form holds up as expected, both gallopers may face a tough task matching it with some of Australia’s best.
This race came to prominence from a Melbourne Cup perspective in 2010 when subsequent Cup winner Americain defeated Manighar.
Both have performed at the highest levels in Australia in the years since.
In 2011, four of the first five home in the Melbourne Cup – Dunaden (9th), Red Cadeaux (5th), Americain (10th) and Manighar (4th) – came through the Kergorlay, stamping it as one of the premier European formlines for the Melbourne spring.
Last year, while not as strong a formline as previous years, still produced a Herbert Power winner in Shahwardi, a Caulfield Cup fourth in Americain and a Geelong Cup placegetter in Brigantin.
This year also looked a fairly weak year, although the winner Verema had fairly strong French form.
She came from better than midfield off a slow tempo, accelerating nicely to grab last year’s winner Joshua Tree near the line, pulling away to win by a half length.
She is trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre, who trained Americain to victory in 2010, so she’s in the right hands if she does come to Melbourne.
However, she is owned by one of the world’s leading owners and breeders in the Aga Khan, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see her running in a race like the Group 1 British Champions Fillies’ and Mares’ Stakes (2414m) on Champions Day.
Nevertheless, if she does come to Melbourne, she has the tactical speed to be a force to be reckoned with.
Joshua Tree, who was once touted as a Cups prospect, is likely to head to Canada with a defence of his Canadian International title on the agenda.
The upcoming week
This weekend shapes as crucial from a Cups perspective, with the running of the Ebor Handicap (2816m), the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup (3218m) and the Group 2 Grand Prix de Deauville (2500m) all garnering attention.