Aidan O’Brien’s Adelaide could be a poster-horse for flat racing’s end-of-term international merry-go-round and hopes are growing the colt can provide Ireland’s champion trainer with a momentous first success in the Cox Plate, Australia’s most prestigious weight-for-age race, on Saturday.
The Plate is Australia's equivalent to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and is worth more than €2 million so the stakes are high for a first Ballydoyle runner in Australia since O'Brien's controversial attempt to win the 2008 Melbourne Cup.
Ahead of this weekend's Grade 1 feature, the Australian media are already referencing that famous race when the pace-forcing tactics employed by a trio of Ballydoyle runners – Septimus, Honolulu and Alessandro Volta – resulted in a prolonged stewards enquiry that saw officials summoning O'Brien back to the track after he'd left to return home.
At the time Ireland's most successful trainer was clearly annoyed with the local stewards and hasn't had a runner in Australia since. With the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster on Sunday, and a squad of four horses being targeted at next week's Breeders Cup meeting in California, he won't be at the Moonee Valley track for Adelaide's last run under his care but Ryan Moore is flying out to ride.
Adelaide has run seven times in his life, in four different countries, and notched a Grade 1 success under Moore in the Secretariat Stakes in Chicago last August. He was last seen running behind Ectot in the Prix Niel at Longchamp.
The Irish three year old will technically race as a four year old in Saturday’s 10 furlong race where the impact of the draw can be important around Moonee Valley’s famously tight track which has seen modern stars such as So You Think (2010) and Makybe Diva (2005,) as well as legendary names of the past such as Phar Lap, win the Cox Plate.
Current local stars, Fawkner and Sacred Falls, are at the top of the betting but there has been sustained market support in Melbourne for Adelaide who has impressed gallop watchers with his progress since arriving in Australia.
"Adelaide has the ability to be a contender in the Cox Plate. He showed that in America when he won the Group 1. It was on a tight, turning track that was left-handed and on very firm ground," the Coolmore representative James Bester told local reporters who confirmed O'Brien has some concerns about the nature of the Moonee Valley course.
“Of course, we would be foolish to discount that as a factor. Moonee Valley is a tricky circuit, we are far from confident of winning, but we are hopeful of winning. The horse has settled in very well at Werribee. He’s a happy horse,” he added.
O'Brien enjoyed a happier Melbourne Cup experience in 2007 when the three year old Mahler finished third in Australia's most valuable and famous race, a contest Dermot Weld famously won twice with Vintage Crop (1993) and Media Puzzle (2002.) The profile of Irish raiders in Australia was boosted just last March when Gordon Lord Byron won the Grade 1 George Ryder Stakes at Rosehill.
Ryan Moore will fly to Australia on the back of a Grade 1 success on Hillstar in Sunday night's Canadian International in Toronto. A pair of English horses are also expected to line up in Saturday's big race. Guest Of Honour will be joined by the well-travelled Andrew Balding runner, Side Glance, winner of the MacKinnon Stakes at Flemington last year.
The Coolmore team plan for Adelaide to join local trainer Chris Waller after the Cox Plate.