The first European visitors to Melbourne go into quarantine tonight our time, ahead of the first shipment which arrives into Melbourne on AFL grand final day.
Over the coming weeks and months you are going to hear plenty about the European horses.
But instead of focusing on the horses themselves, I want to have a look at the trainers of some of these gallopers, for they form quite an eclectic bunch.
From jumps trainers to Australian expats, these are the personalities who have been persuaded to make the long trip across the world to chase our riches, with horses aimed at either the Cups – the Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup – or the Cox Plate.
Champion English jumps trainer Nicky Henderson and his Irish counterpart Willie Mullins would normally be seen clashing in the Cotswolds, at Cheltenham during their famous March festival.
This year, they may be clashing on the banks of the Maribyrnong River on the first Tuesday in November.
Henderson, a former amateur jockey, has not been to Australia since 1969, when he rode a winner at the Bong Bong Cup meeting, held every November near Bowral in the NSW Southern Highlands.
He currently trains the best jumper in training in Sprinter Sacre, an excitement machine referred to fondly as the Frankel of National Hunt racing.
However, while his string prepares for the jumps season in earnest, he is hoping to send a former jumper in Forgotten Voice to Melbourne.
If he comes to Melbourne, Forgotten Voice will be one of the more unique visitors to come to Australia.
A horse who’d shown his best up to a mile, he was injured and spent two years on the sidelines. Last July, he returned as a jumper, where he made an instant impression.
However, when switched back to the flat at this year’s Royal Ascot, he showed the 1m 2f to be right up his alley as he won the Wolferton Handicap convincingly.
Last time out, he won the Glorious Stakes, defeating perennial Australian visitor Lost In The Moment, and he looks to have found a new career as a top class stayer.
As for Willie Mullins, he has brought a horse to Australia once before, in what is one of the more amusing tales of the Melbourne Cup’s international era.
Holy Orders was a dual purpose galloper who boasted a six length victory over subsequent Melbourne Cup winner Media Puzzle in 2002.
However, he had lost form in 2003, although he wasn’t disgraced in races like the Champion Hurdle and the Ebor Handicap.
When he arrived in Melbourne, there was just one problem – he refused to gallop.
Every morning at the old quarantine centre at Sandown, he’d be led out onto the track. And every morning, he would pigroot, he would rear, he would do everything except that which he was supposed to do.
In the end, Mullins enlisted Ross McDonald, better known in recent years as the trainer of Weekend Hussler. It didn’t work.
Thankfully, when the gates crashed back, he broke into a gallop, but perhaps the lack of fitness told and he finished a well beaten 17th to Makybe Diva.
I’m sure Mullins will be hoping he has a different experience altogether with Simenon, a former jumper who has risen to every challenge he’s been set on the flat the last 18 months.
Simenon finished second to Estimate in the Ascot Gold Cup in June, and while that tends to be a terrible form guide to the Melbourne Cup, Simenon did thrash Shahwardi last year before the latter came out to win the Herbert Power Stakes.
Jane Chapple-Hyam returns to her home town, Melbourne, hoping to steal one of its biggest sporting crowns, the Cox Plate.
Chapple-Hyam is the daughter of former Opposition Leader and Liberal Party stalwart Andrew Peacock and socialite Lady Susan Renouf, and has held a trainer’s licence in the United Kingdom since September 2005.
It wasn’t a happy homecoming for Chapple-Hyam in 2008, when her horse Yellowstone was a scratching from the Melbourne Cup on veterinary advice. It was a decision which sparked controversy, with jockey John Egan fined for saying before the withdrawal that he didn’t want “a couple of tinpot Hitlers” to ruin his trip.
This time, she brings Mull of Killough, a galloper who has racked up a fair few frequent flyer points this year. He finished fifth in the Singapore International Cup behind Military Attack, went back to England to finish second in the Summer Mile at Ascot to Aljamaaheer, and then disappointed last start when eighth in the Arlington Million in Chicago.
Don’t be surprised to see controversy surround Mull of Killough if we have more than 14 acceptances for the Cox Plate.
As more horses are confirmed, we’ll have a look at some more of the personalities who will be coming to Melbourne this spring.