Back within the city limits and off to Rosehill this Saturday, unfortunately the run of heavy tracks looks set to continue, but there are…
If ever there’s an official starting point of the road to the Melbourne Cup, it’s the next 24 hours, with the international band of horses solely targeting the Melbourne Cup set to begin quarantine.
After predictions earlier this week that six or seven horses were to enter quarantine, it now looks like the figure will be either nine or 10 for the Melbourne Cup, with Qatar Racing’s Havana Gold also set to make the trip to target the Emirates Stakes.
The big racing news last night was the shock sale of Irish St Leger winner Voleuse de Couers to Australian interests ahead of the quarantine deadline.
Trainer Dermot Weld was said to be shocked and dumbfounded, as he had ruled out the Melbourne Cup due to a number of factors, in particular her affinity with softer ground and the fact she was still maturing.
Now, Weld has lost his star mare, with Mike Moroney named as her new trainer late last night.
She is set to be one of either nine or 10 horses, and remarkably, all 10 horses would get a run in the Melbourne Cup under current estimations. Godolphin’s Royal Empire is the lowest ranked on the ballot order in 28th.
It could make it a tight squeeze for positions come Derby day, even tighter than last year.
Here are my five internationals to watch:
Voleuse de Couers
We may as well start with the lady of the moment, Voleuse de Couers – in English, it roughly translates to ‘thief of hearts’.
I wonder if this mare will steal some hearts come Melbourne Cup day?
She’s continued to get better at every start. She won the Irish Cesarewitch by 10 lengths on heavy ground last October, and she’s yet to miss a place this year.
Her Irish St Leger win was the most dominant since Septimus beat a field of second-raters by 13 lengths in 2008, but the field she beat was far stronger.
Behind her were Lonsdale Cup winner Ahzeemah, Doncaster Cup winner Saddler’s Rock, globetrotting star Red Cadeaux, last year’s Irish St Leger winner Royal Diamond and Curragh Cup winner Ernest Hemingway.
She made them all look second rate.
There are negatives, though. And these are negatives given by Dermot Weld as to why he wasn’t launching a Melbourne Cup raid this year.
She’s better on soft ground, as most of Weld’s gallopers are – remember Galileo’s Choice last year? And she is still quite immature, with plenty of growth ahead.
Still, any horse that produces this sort of performance in an Irish St Leger must be taken very seriously:
As I said to Justin Cinque last night, this year’s Melbourne Cup could resemble the ‘battle of the mares’ in 1998, between Kiwi gallopers Jezabeel and Champagne.
This year, though, the two mares could be internationals, with French mare Verema looking a terrific chance of giving Alain de Royer Dupre his second Melbourne Cup.
Last start, Verema won the Prix Kergorlay, a race won by Americain in 2010. A year later, Dunaden was midfield, while second (Red Cadeaux), fourth (Americain) and fifth (Manighar) were all close up.
It’s proved a top notch Melbourne Cup guide, and I believe that can continue this year.
I’m very keen on Verema for the Melbourne Cup, for a number of reasons. She’s got plenty of scope, she loves fast ground and I’ve been aching to see her in a race with a solid tempo.
Perhaps the most simple reason is the fact the Aga Khan has given the go-ahead for the mission. The Aga Khan is one of the world’s most respected owners and breeders, and he wouldn’t send a horse to Melbourne unless he was convinced he could win.
It’s a similar philosophy to one he’s employed with an uncanny knack of success around the world.
Just seeing the Aga Khan‘s famous silks in Melbourne will be a coup in itself.
Here is Verema’s Prix Kergorlay win:
Come Melbourne Cup week, Brown Panther will attract more attention for the identity of his owner – retired football superstar Michael Owen – than for his form.
He was a very promising three-year-old who recorded a six length victory at Royal Ascot. This led to him starting a hot favourite in the German Derby, but on soft ground (on which he is a far inferior horse), he finished fourth to Waldpark – just behind Mawingo, but ahead of Ibicenco.
He went on to finish second to Masked Marvel in the St Leger, ahead of Sea Moon and Seville
As a four-year-old, he lost all form and looked a shadow of his own self. Still, he managed to beat Lost In The Moment by seven lengths at Pontefract, and he went within a head of winning the Irish St Leger.
This year, he’s returned to his best, with his Goodwood Cup win the highlight.
He was defeated last week in a Listed 10 furlong race, which he was forced to run in after he missed the Irish St Leger because of illness, but it was never going to be the right race for him and he was ridden poorly.
To my eye, it’s a run that must be forgotten when assessing his form.
Goodwood Cup form tends to hold up, and that’s why I’d be very wary of Brown Panther on Melbourne Cup day. Here’s that victory:
One of these years, Emirates stable Godolphin will win the Melbourne Cup – it’s simply a matter of time. And I think they’ve got a horse with all the right attributes in Royal Empire.
In Royal Empire, they have a horse who still looks slightly untapped who has not had a tough, year-long preparation.
He finished a distant last in March as an odds-on favourite at Meydan, and he was quickly spelled.
In hindsight, that may prove a godsend.
Stepped up beyond 2200m for the first time, Royal Empire easily won the Geoffrey Freer Stakes – won last year by Mount Athos – from Red Cadeaux.
At his last start, he was beaten a head by his stablemate Prince Bishop in the September Stakes, and he needs to run well in Saturday’s Cumberland Lodge Stakes to clinch a ticket to Melbourne.
(If you are wondering why Godolphin can have a runner this weekend and still bring them to Melbourne, it’s a terrific question. Basically, it comes down to money. They have their own cargo freighter, so they can put their horses into quarantine later if they wish to bring them down later. They will go into quarantine on Saturday night.)
Royal Empire has a very similar profile to a number of horses who have performed well for Godolphin in the past, including Crime Scene and Give The Slip.
With form in shorter races and a terrific turn of foot, he looks a live chance of giving Godolphin their first Melbourne Cup success.
Whether or not Royal Empire makes the trip, Godolphin will still be represented by Ahzeemah, who features in two of the above profiles.
Ahzeemah finished a distant second to Brown Panther in the Goodwood Cup before winning the Lonsdale Cup by a head to Simenon.
At his last start, he was a six length second to Voleuse de Coeurs in the Irish St Leger.
I tend to think Royal Empire’s the better chance, but time will tell.
Like Voleuse de Couers, Tres Blue is technically not an ‘international’, as he’s to be trained by Gai Waterhouse.
However, given it will be his first run in Australia, I’m happy to include him as an international.
The huge factor for Tres Blue is the fact he will only have to carry 51kg as a northern hemisphere three-year-old.
That’s a huge weight pull. He has similar international ratings to Mahler, who carried 50.5kg into third place behind Efficient and Purple Moon in 2007.
The Waterhouse stable were successful – by my standards, anyway – with Fiorente last year, producing him at his first start in Australia to finish second in the Melbourne Cup.
Tres Blue looks to lack the turn of foot you’d want from a Melbourne Cup contender, but he does have tactical speed, which will be crucial.
Expect him to be up near the speed and prove hard to run down.
Here’s his last start win against the older horses in the Group 2 Grand Prix de Deauville (2500m):
Of the others expected to enter quarantine, three are very familiar to Australian punters.
2011 Melbourne Cup winner and 2012 Caulfield Cup winner Dunaden is making his third trip to Australia for the Spring Carnival, after connections decided he had a better chance in the Melbourne Cup than Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
He’ll be joined by the horse he nosed out by the narrowest of margins two years ago, Red Cadeaux.
Between them, not only are they the 2011 Melbourne Cup quinella, but they are also the last two winners of the Hong Kong Vase.
Also returning is Mount Athos, last year’s fifth placegetter. He won the Chester Cup by nine lengths at his seasonal reappearance, but his form since has been mixed. He cannot be dismissed, but it remains to be seen if he is the same horse as last year.
The final possible Melbourne Cup aspirant to go into quarantine is Joshua Tree, a stablemate of Red Cadeaux.
Originally being aimed towards the Canadian International by Ed Dunlop, he also still holds an entry in the Arc.
A decision on whether he enters quarantine will be made tonight.
Of the international contingent, who do you think will be the hardest to beat?