Is this the year for Gai Waterhouse?
Owner John Singleton and trainer Gai Waterhouse celebrate after More Joyous ridden by Nash Rawiller won race 7, the Doncaster Mile, at Royal Randwick Racecourse in Sydney on Saturday, April 21, 2012. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Australia’s true Queen of the Turf has won every race there is to win in NSW, but her continuous attempts to win the Melbourne Cup are thwarted every year.
With a brigade of imports like no other, is this the year Waterhouse wins her first?
Waterhouse comes from Australia’s premier racing family and as a result is, rightly or wrongly so, often compared to her late father, legendary Tommy Smith.
Prior to Waterhouse taking over her father’s stable, Smith had ventured to Melbourne many times and picked up two Melbourne Cups along the way.
The first came in 1955 when Toparoa achieved the rare feat of winning the race as a seven year old. It was a long break between champagnes with 26 years passing before Smith lifted the Cup once more when Just A Dash won by two lengths in 1981.
Somewhat ironically, Just A Dash delivered owner Lloyd Williams his first of four Melbourne Cups and this year Williams will be one of the key antagonists plotting the failure Smith’s daughter, Waterhouse.
In her 21 years of training horses, Waterhouse has coming agonisingly close to Melbourne Cup victory on three occasions. 1993 was just her second year as an official trainer and she set lofty standards for herself when she sent Te Akau Nick to the Cup where he ran second.
In 1995 she backed up Nothin’ Leica Dane three days after winning the Victoria Derby into the Melbourne Cup where he ran an inspiring second. Last year, Fiorente came from nowhere to give Waterhouse her third silver medal.
Like most Australian trainers, Waterhouse has given up on breeding stayers and opted to import from Europe.
First nominations for the Melbourne Cup are yet to be released but she has 14 horses nominated for the Caulfield Cup and 18 for the Cox Plate. From those nominations, let’s look at her five best chances for the 2013 Melbourne Cup.
Last year, Fiorente came from absolute oblivion to run second in the Melbourne Cup. It was his first run in Australia, his European form was not great and he was coming off a seven week break between runs.
He also made us all look like fools when he emerged from the pack as the only horse closing on Green Moon at the 200m mark.
In the history of the Melbourne Cup, only three horses have won in the year after they ran second. Those were Kensai (1988), Gold And Black (1977) and Carbine (1890).
In autumn, Fiorente had just one appearance in the Group 1 All Aged Stakes over 1400m. It should have been far too short of a trip for a two miler yet he stormed home from the back of the field to beat some highly credentialed sprinters to run third.
Fiorente ticks all the boxes. He can cover the trip; he can run on Australian ground and his sire Monsun is in outstanding form this season. Fiorente is already guaranteed a start in the Melbourne Cup and is Waterhouse’s best chance but there is a lot of history against him going one better than last year.
It is fitting that Her Majesty The Queen assigned her only Australian-trained horse to Australia’s Queen of the Turf.
Carlton House has been in the care of Waterhouse for roughly nine months and had one autumn start in the Group 2 Ajax Stakes over 1500m. On that day, the money poured in for the royal entire who subsequently failed to handle the firm ground and plodded home five lengths shy of the winner with a one-paced effort.
Prior to his arrival in Australia, Carlton House lingered around the Group 1 middle distance European races and was always competitive. His most applicable form line came in the Group 1 Prince of Wales Stakes over 2000m when he ran second behind So You Think and one better than Reliable Man, both Group 1 winners in Australia.
Since his failure in the Ajax, we have seen Carlton House trial twice over 1400m on wet ground where he has looked much more impressive.
By Street Cry who also produced 2009 Melbourne Cup winner Shocking, Carlton House should be able to cover two miles but his performances in England suggest he is a dour type and may not have the turn of foot required to win a Melbourne Cup.
Twelve months ago, this horse arrived on our shores with big wraps on him and he has occupied a top ten position on betting markets since. Lightly raced in England, he has had five career starts for two wins and run third of three occasions.
The highlight of his British racing career came in his final European start when he finished third in the Doncaster St Leger over 2900m. By Galileo, it is no surprise that he comfortably travelled the St Leger distance and should have no problem over the two miles here.
The biggest concern has been how poorly Michelangelo has trialled in his three barrier trials since arriving in Australia. He has finished second last, last and last in his three trials but all were on either slow or heavy ground.
All five of his career starts have been on good ground so there are two schools of thought here. He has either struggled to adapt to his new environment or he is ten times a better horse on dry ground than wet.
In a track gallop last weekend, he was beaten home by stablemate Julienas who is a good horse, but not a great one.
So far, Michelangelo has done nothing to justify his high position on early betting markets but we are all eagerly anticipating his first proper race in Australia before we reassess.With a rating of 100, he still needs to lift his rating to guarantee a start in the Melbourne Cup.
Our Desert Warrior
With so many under-credentialed Waterhouse runners to be nominated for the Melbourne Cup, we have gone with Our Desert Warrior as the best of the rest. Other capable stayers considered were Hippopus, Vaquera and Western Symbol.
But Our Desert Warrior has an x-factor which is synonymous with the race that stops a nation. He is by Desert King, the same sire of triple Melbourne Cup winner Makybe Diva. With his breeding, Our Desert Warrior is expected to be a late bloomer.
He was purchased by Waterhouse herself for $260,000 at the 2011 Easter Yearling sales and looks a handy type.
His three year old campaign was good and Waterhouse has seen enough from the now four year old to nominate him for both the Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate.
Two starts back he finished third in the Listed Geelong Classic over 2200m before going to the Group 1 VRC Derby where he finished tenth, eight lengths shy of the winner. It was not a terrible run but for a horse in just his fourth start, it was respectable.
Our Desert Warrior will come into his body this year and if he can show the same improvement between his three and four year old campaigns as his breeding suggests capable, he will impact the spring carnival.