Willie Mullins is leaving little to chance as he prepares to try and finally land next month’s Lexus Melbourne Cup in Australia.
Two decades after first attempting to land the race that famously ‘stops a nation’ bookmakers reckon the Irish trainer has his best chance yet to scoop the Aus$8 million (€7.4 million) Flemington prize.
Vauban is as short as 3-1 favourite to emerge on top on the first Tuesday in November and will be backed up by his stable companion Absurde.
Both horses landed in Melbourne over the weekend and have settled into the Werribee quarantine centre which will be their home from home for the next month.
The logistics of racing horses on the other side of the world has become familiar to Mullins since he first tried to lift the Melbourne Cup all of 20 years go.
On that occasion Holy Orders garnered more headlines for his refusal to gallop in the morning than in the big race itself, where he eventually finished 17th to Makybe Diva.
A decade later Simenon was an honourable fourth to Fiorente before Max Dynamite came agonisingly close to victory when a half-length runner-up to the 100-1 shot Prince of Penzance in 2015.
That the latter’s jockey Michelle Payne was the first woman to ride a Melbourne Cup winner overshadowed Max Dynamite’s unlucky passage up the Flemington straight under Frankie Dettori.
Max Dynamite was placed again when third to Rekindling in 2017, with Thomas Hobson sixth that year, and Mullins is keen to finally break his duck in what he describes as “the biggest international prize we could win”.
The figure who has transformed National Hunt racing over the last decade confirmed on Monday that Ryan Moore – a Melbourne Cup winner on Protectionist in 2014 – is his first choice to ride Vauban.
However, the jockey picture is less clear for Absurde, who landed York’s Ebor in August under a vintage Dettori spin.
“Frankie wouldn’t be able to do the weight and that’s a problem. We could have Zac Purton, the champion jockey in Hong Kong, who rode Max Dynamite [in 2017]. He’s Australian and very keen to ride the horse.
“Him, or Kerrin McEvoy, or Damian Lane are the jockeys that are free and can do the weight. He has a very light weight, 8.6 I think, which is light in our context. They’re the options.
“We are hoping Ryan is free. If Ryan’s free he rides Vauban. They’re my jockey arrangements at this stage anyway – nothing is arranged!” Mullins said.
Much clearer is the Irishman’s determination to win Australia’s most famous sporting prize, which was transformed 30 years ago when Dermot Weld saddled Vintage Crop to become the first European-trained winner.
Having endured the frustration of six runner-up placings in the Cheltenham Gold Cup before finally landing steeplechasing’s ‘Blue Riband’ in 2019, breaking his Melbourne duck and finishing “unfinished business” appears a new Mullins priority.
“It’s probably the biggest international race we could win. We don’t have horses for the Breeders’ Cup and that sort of thing,” he admitted.
Mullins’s long-time assistant David Casey is in charge of Vauban and Absurde in Australia and reported both horses had taken the long flight to Australia well.
“Vauban didn’t lose a lot of weight on the flight and it appears he has put it all back on since he came,” Casey reported to local media in Melbourne.
“We’re delighted with him. He came off the flight really well and ate and drank plenty on the plane so everyone was really happy with him.
“Absurde was second to Vauban at Royal Ascot and then he went and won the Ebor but I think he was a better horse at York than he was at Ascot,” he added.
There will be more Irish big-race interest in Australia later this month when Aidan O’Brien will bid to secure a second win in the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley with last year’s Breeders’ Cup winner Victoria Road.
The Saxon Warrior colt, third to Flight Plan at the Dublin Racing Festival last month, will race for new owners in Australia’s most prestigious weight for age race on October 28th.
O’Brien won the Cox Plate in 2014 with Adelaide, while his son Joseph was successful with State Of Rest two years ago.