It’s a controversy that’s taken the swimming world by storm, with Australia’s Mack Horton refusing to stand on the podium alongside China’s Sung Yan in apparent protest of his recent dealings with FINA’s doping authority.
Saturday in Melbourne not only marks one of the most important sporting events in the Australian calendar, the AFL Grand Final, but it also signifies a “changing of the guard” of sorts.
Saturday sees the arrival of the first internationally-trained horses aiming to win the Melbourne Cup, indicating a shift from the footy season to spring racing.
There are 16 horses on this first shipment. They left quarantine on Thursday, heading to London’s Heathrow Airport where they boarded a specialised cargo plane to take them on their long journey.
It has been more than 40 hours from door to door, with stops in Dubai and Singapore before they arrive at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport at 12:05pm Saturday.
Not all of today’s arrivals will be prepared by international trainers, with a number set to join local trainers for their assault on the spring features.
Others will continue to race for their previous trainer, but switch to an Australian trainer after the spring. And of course, there are the usual visitors who will return to Europe after the spring.
Among today’s shipment are the last two winners of the Melbourne Cup, Dunaden and Americain.
Dunaden returns to Australia after a planned attempt at the world’s greatest race, the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe, was abandoned. He comes with superior form to last year but he has to carry 58kg, no mean feat. He is expected to tackle both Cups.
This spring marks Americain’s swansong as he prepares for stud duties, and he has had one of the weirdest preparations for a spring carnival imaginable – flying back to France at the end of May before returning today.
He is likely to follow a similar campaign to last year, taking in the Moonee Valley Cup prior to the Melbourne Cup.
Americain is joined by stablemate Shahwardi, who has found form at his last two runs after a number of fair efforts in weaker company. He didn’t finish far behind Brigantin and Tac de Boistron at his last two, and he will head to Geelong in an effort to force his way into the Melbourne Cup field.
The success of French gallopers the last two years has seen a rise in interest from some of their premier trainers.
Andre Fabre is one of the world’s great trainers, having been France’s champion trainer for 21 straight seasons from 1987 to 2007. Among his big race wins are seven Arcs, an English 2000 Guineas, an Epsom Derby, an English St Leger, an Irish Derby, a Derby Italiano, a Canadian International, a Dubai Sheema Classic, a Breeders’ Cup Classic and an Arlington Million.
He’s clearly a very good traveller of horses, and this year he tackles Australia for the first time with Brigantin.
Brigantin comes to Melbourne having not won for 18 months, but his form in that time has on the whole been quite good. This includes a third in last year’s Ascot Gold Cup to Fame and Glory and a third in last year’s Prix Kergorlay to Jukebox Jury (finishing in front of Manighar, Red Cadeaux, Dunaden and Americain).
At his last start, he produced arguably the run of the race in the Prix Kergorlay when he finished hard off a moderate tempo, and he looks bound to give a bold showing in the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups.
One of Brigantin’s main sparring partners has been Tac de Boistron, who has joined the Mick Kent yard. Kent has been supervising Tac de Boistron’s preparations at Newmarket, calling the task mammoth earlier this week.
The horse has been around the mark in many of France’s 3200m races this year and will either take in the Caulfield Cup or the Geelong Cup on his way to Flemington.
One of the more intriguing arrivals is Arlington Million runner-up Afsare, who will be aiming to become the first European-trained galloper to win the Cox Plate.
He is the first European Cox Plate entrant since Andreas Wohler’s Paolini finished 10th to Savabeel in 2004.
Afsare is part of arguably Luca Cumani’s strongest ever Australian team. He also brings with him Mount Athos, who has been in stellar form this year and is the current favourite for the Melbourne Cup. He is unlikely to run prior to the great race.
As always, Cumani is represented by two horses from Simon O’Donnell and Terry Henderson’s OTI Racing in their quest to avenge Bauer’s narrow Melbourne Cup defeat from 2008 – Quest for Peace, who has been in good form recently, and Ibicenco, who has been very disappointing this year.
Quest for Peace is likely to run in both the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups, while Ibicenco needs to show a glimpse of form when he tackles the Herbert Power Handicap for him to push on to the Melbourne Cup.
Another OTI Racing galloper heading to the Herbert Power is John Gosden’s Gatewood, who has made leaps and bounds through the grades this year. He won the Wolferton Handicap at Royal Ascot this year, before good runs in Group company. He will stay in Australia after the spring, but he needs to win the Herbert Power to have any chance of contesting either of the Cups.
Rounding out OTI’s contingent is last year’s French Derby runner up Prairie Star. He has joined the stable of Danny O’Brien and is being aimed at the Caulfield Cup. However, he comes off a very poor run last time out, and would need to improve on that to be a chance.
Dermot Weld is the only European trainer to win more than one Melbourne Cup, having saluted with the trailblazing Vintage Crop in 1993 and Media Puzzle in 2002. This year, he brings Ireland’s sole representative Galileo’s Choice, who three starts back contested a Grade 1 hurdle at the world famous Cheltenham Festival.
However, his form on the flat is more than adequate for the Melbourne Cup, with a good win in the Ballyroan Stakes at his last start. He is likely to head straight to Flemington, although he may run in the Geelong Cup beforehand if Weld feels he needs the run.
The Australian-owned Jakkalberry is one of the more intriguing visitors. Australia marks the sixth country in which he will race in the last 14 months, having run in Italy, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates (Dubai), the United Kingdom and the United States.
He has gone to a new level this year, running third to Cirrus des Aigles and St Nicholas Abbey in the Dubai Sheema Classic before winning the inaugural American St Leger at Arlington last time out.
He is the first Australian competitor for promising young trainer Marco Botti, and he heads to the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups.
Also joining this shipment are three unheralded horses who join Australian trainers. The most fascinating of these is three year old Brazilian filly Energia Elegante, owned by Dubai World Cup-winning owner Stefan Friborg. She joins John Sadler’s Malua Racing and could even be Oaks-bound in the autumn.
Saghann, joining Anthony Freedman, and Why Not, for David Hayes, round out the first shipment.
A second shipment of horses will arrive in Melbourne on October 20, Caulfield Cup day, but it is only expected to feature three or four horses. Among them will be last year’s Melbourne Cup runner up Red Cadeaux as well as another addition to the Gai Waterhouse yard, Fiorente.
Also on the plane will be Cavalryman and Lost In The Moment, representing the world’s largest stable Godolphin.
None will race in Melbourne prior to the Melbourne Cup.
And so, as of today, the battle lines begin to be drawn as the race for spring glory intensifies.