Last year's Derby hero Anthony Van Dyck is the headline act going into Saturday's $5 million Caulfield Cup, the first major objective for the large Irish raiding party on Melbourne's spring carnival.
Aidan O’Brien’s star will be the first Epsom Derby winner to race in Australia and is viewed as one of the best international runners ever sent from Europe.
He is also entered for next month’s carnival highlight, the Melbourne Cup, but will start the campaign by trying to secure a first Irish success in this weekend’s Caulfield Cup.
Despite carrying topweight Anthony Van Dyck is a clear 9-2 favourite for the historic mile and a half handicap which sits alongside both the Melbourne Cup and the Cox Plate in terms of prestige in Australia.
A first win since the Derby came when he beat Stradivarius in last month’s Prix Foy at Longchamp and O’Brien has been pleased with his progress since arriving down under.
"Everyone seems very happy with him and how he's going. Hugh Bowman rides," Ireland's champion trainer confirmed.
Bowman earned global renown as the rider of the superstar mare Winx.
Anthony Van Dyck is set to be joined in Saturday’s race by the Willie Mullins-trained True Self and Buckhurst from Joseph O’Brien’s yard.
Ballydoyle's international traveller Magic Wand could be joined by Armory for Saturday week's Cox Plate while Tiger Moth tops betting lists for the Melbourne Cup.
That is also the target for the Irish Derby winner Santiago while Master Of Reality and Twilight Payment are among Joseph O’Brien’s hopes for a repeat of Rekindling’s 2017 success in ‘the race that stops a nation’.
Mullins also aims to have another go at the Melbourne Cup with last year’s Cesarewitch winner Stratum, who will race in Australia under the name Stratum Albion.
True Self is back in Australia after a successful time in Melbourne last year where she won the Group Three Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Flemington.
That came on the back of a narrow defeat in the Geelong Cup on her first start after shipping and the Mullins team is taking that as encouraging ahead of this Saturday’s Group One contest.
After riding her in a piece of work on Tuesday, Mullins's assistant, David Casey, reported to local media: "She has settled in very quickly. It's like she remembers being here last year. She was very good this morning."
He added: “The fact she ran close in the Geelong Cup, we hope she can run well first time. A lot depends on the draw. We hopes she gets a good draw, can get a good position and run a good race.”
Co Wexford-born jockey Declan Bates, who moved to Australia in 2015, has been booked to ride True Self.
Bates, a former jump jockey who rode 40 winners here , has been successful at Group One level on the Flat in Australia.
“The fact that she’s come out last year and won a good race is definitely a bonus. Some good horses come out here and don’t find their feet but to see her come out last year, and she’s run well, that ticks a box for sure,” Bates reported.
“He [Mullins] is one of the top jumps trainers back home and he gets plenty of Flat winners too so I’ve spent a lot of time back home watching his good horses go around but have not actually rode one of them,” he added.
Other jockeys news from Australia is that Ben Melham will team up with Buckhurst on Saturday.
The Caulfield Cup draw takes place on Wednesday although the Ballydoyle team aren’t particularly worried about stalls position for Anthony Van Dyck around the tight circuit.
O’Brien’s representative, TJ Comerford, told local media in Melbourne: “The draw won’t beat him. You would like to be drawn middle to low somewhere not too wide. But I don’t think it matters because he’s very straightforward.
“He’s an easy horse to ride and it’s not like he needs to be settled or anything like that if you have to ride for a position early.
“He’s a very well experienced horse. You wouldn’t want to see him absolutely carved up badly on the bend either so we just hope it’s a very straightforward run race.”
The Andrew Balding-trained Dashing Willoughby is also likely to be part of Saturday’s Caulfield Cup line-up although the absence of Japanese-trained runners was noted by Comerford.
“It’s a big help they’re not here,” he said. “They were very impressive last year [Mere De Glace was the winner] and they bought a very good horse. But our horse is good himself and he’s in great order.”