Record six Irish-trained horses tackle Melbourne Cup
Joseph O’Brien tries to lift the ‘race that stops a nation’ on the first time of asking
A record six Irish-trained hopefuls will line up for “the race that stops a nation” when the Emirates Melbourne Cup is run in the early hours of Tuesday.
It is 24 years since Dermot Weld’s Vintage Crop opened up to the world what is widely regarded as Australia’s most coveted sporting prize, and evidence of that internationalisation is all over the 157th edition of the Flemington highlight due off at 4am.
Three runners from Britain, and one each from France and Germany join the Irish team, and the European impact in general is such that just a handful of the field are bred in Australia or New Zealand.
Some bookmakers go just 8-11 about a European-trained winner, although the presence of Frankie Dettori – who rode Drum Taps in that 1993 Cup and is still chasing an elusive victory on the defending champion Almandin – is at least one note of international co-operation.
Ireland’s champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins first tried to win the $6.2 million feature in 2003, and came closest to success when Max Dynamite finished runner-up under a less than inspired Dettori spin in 2015.
Max Dynamite is part of a triple-Mullins challenge this time. Thomas Hobson and the Hong Kong champion jockey Joao Moreira look sure to attract plenty of support despite an unappealingly wide draw in 21 of 24, although Wicklow Brave is a 66-1 outsider.
It is 10 years since Aidan O’Brien’s first Cup attempt, and Mahler’s third in 2007 remains the closest that the world record-breaking champion flat trainer has come to Flemington glory.
Johannes Vermeer is his hope this time, one of six horses to carry the colours of five-time Cup winning owner Lloyd Williams. The Galileo colt has run twice recently in Australia, but O’Brien concedes the two mile trip is unknown territory.
However, the Cup experience will be a new one for O’Brien’s son Joseph, who was only six months old when Vintage Crop stunned Australian racing.
Having poured a glittering riding career, featuring multiple classics and jockeys championships, into a condensed period before finally losing the battle with weight at 22, O’Brien has two chances of breaking international training ground beyond even his father.
Less than 18 months ago, after his gallant Derby second to Harzand at Epsom, the idea that US Army Ranger would line up in a Melbourne Cup would have seemed farfetched. His career has fizzled out spectacularly since, however, and this will be US Army Ranger’s first run for O’Brien since being transferred from Ballydoyle. Jamie Spencer gets the task of teasing out the enigma on Tuesday.
Local jockey Corey Brown, a Melbourne Cup winner on Shocking in 2009, has been engaged for O’Brien Jnr’s other hope, and Rekindling looks a very different proposition.
Rekindling’s youth is a statistical negative since the last three-year-old to win was Skipton in 1941. Yet Mahler was three when making the frame, and crucially the Irish colt has both a low draw and a proven blend of speed and stamina.
O’Brien is making the trip to Melbourne from California where Now You’re Talking finished out of the money at the Breeders’ Cup in Del Mar on Friday night.
Mendelssohn provided Aidan O’Brien with a 12th Breeders’ Cup victory on Friday, but none of his 10 runners at Saturday night’s action were successful, although Declarationofpeace won a $200,000 listed event on the Del Mar undercard.
Both Rhododendron (Filly & Mare) and Lancaster Bomber (Mile) managed honourable runner-up positions, while Highland Reel was third to the French winner Talismanic in the mile and a half Turf.
However, Churchill (seventh) and War Decree (ninth) made no show behind the $6 million Classic winner Gun Runner who beat off Collected and West Coast. The defending champion Arrogate was a weary fifth.
Unlike Dettori, Ryan Moore has skipped crossing the Pacific and it will be local rider Ben Melham who rides Johannes Vermeer in Melbourne.
Talismanic’s Turf success on Saturday provided a form boost for the English-trained Melbourne Cup favourite Marmelo, but also the French hope Tibetan, who twice beat Talismanic earlier this year. Veteran French jockey Oliver Peslier has his first Melbourne Cup ride on the 33-1 outsider.