Internationals gear up for the Melbourne Cup

7 October 2010

Written by: Lawrie Zion

For a carnival so commonly associated with drinking, it comes as no surprise that the last few years of the Melbourne Cup have a rich history of alcohol-related names. Many remember Brew storming home in the 2000 edition, launching Kerrin McEvoy’s globetrotting career in the process:


Two years earlier Champagne went down by a neck to Jezabeel in a classic contest:

And last year Alcopop went out a $4.80 favourite, eventually battling on to finish sixth behind Shocking. The Jake Stephens-trained gelding returns this year, but well-lubricated punters looking for an omen may well double up this year with Drunken Sailor looking for a place in the 150th Cup.

Drunken Sailor is one of three horses brought out by Luca Cumani for this year’s Cup, with a fourth, Bauer, due to arrive this Saturday. And he will have to follow the same route as Bauer, and indeed 2002 winner Media Puzzle, if he is to be sure of a start in the race, by going through the Geelong Cup.

The six-year-old bay gelding lies 31st in the order of entry for the Melbourne Cup but victory in Geelong should earn him a sufficient penalty to earn his way into the final field.

The Cumani camp had been tossing up whether to run him in the Caulfield or Geelong Cups, but Tuesday’s third acceptances for Caulfield saved them an early-morning decision of what to do with their Drunken Sailor. He is 24th in line to make the field of 18 on Saturday week, making him unlikely to gain entry and therefore settling his road to the Cup.

Once there, the Cumani stable is confident in his chances.

‘He can win over a mile and three (furlongs), but he also can stay the Northumberland Plate which is two miles, so for the distance point of view for the Cup I wouldn’t say it’s a problem,’ said stable foreman Charlie Henson. ‘He seems to adapt to most types of ground and one thing about him is he’s very tough.

‘He’s come up through the handicap route and that’s what he is, a handicapper, which to me I think is probably an ideal way of having a horse ready for the Melbourne Cup.’

Henson is preparing the horses ahead of Cumani’s arrival. Alongside Drunken Sailor are Manighar and Becqu Adoree, both set for Caulfield Cup Day. The latter will race in one of the Group 3 events on the day and will need a more conventional spring program, while Manighar is set for the 2400m feature race.

‘We’ve had him since the beginning of the year,’ said Henson. ‘His last race was the best and that was at Deauville (in France). Whether it was because it was on a slightly softer surface or whether it be that it was his time of the year and he was just coming into himself, he was unlucky not to win that, just beaten by Americain who is over here as well. But look, we’re happy with him so far and hopefully he’ll run a solid race in the Caulfield Cup.’

Americain is the first attempt by leading French trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre to win Australia’s greatest race. He too will go through the Geelong Cup; currently he is in the 24-horse Melbourne Cup field but other horses may yet leapfrog him and bump him out.

All in all, 14 international entrants remain for the Cup, including two more Godolphin horses:  Campanologist and Holberg. The world’s most famous stable once again will look to break its duck, after again finishing second last year with Crime Scene.

It was the third time Saeed bin Suroor’s team have led all but one home, after Central Park in 1999 and Give The Slip two years later.

Although an imported horse won as early as 1910, when Comedy King triumphed, the internationalisation of the Cup really began in 1993 when Vintage Crop saluted for Dermot Weld. The Irish trainer also won with Media Puzzle and will send Profound Beauty out this weekend for a second attempt at the race, after finishing fifth two years ago.

Profound Beauty was second in the Irish St Leger this year, at The Curragh over 2800m, behind the Jeremy Noseda-trained Sans Frontieres, who pulled out late last night.

The other international ‘raider’ to have saluted on the first Tuesday in November was Delta Blues in 2006:

A horse that is 3-0 against Delta Blues, Tokai Trick, forms the Japanese charge this year. Japanese horses have been unable to make the journey since the outbreak of equine influenza, meaning Tokai Trick will have his first attempt at the great race at nine years old. But, as fellow nine year-old Zipping proved on the weekend, age is no barrier, and trainer Kenji Nonaka’s racing manager, Keita Tanaka, says Tokai Trick is fit and well.

‘He is still now in good form,’ he said. ‘He’s nice and relaxed and sometimes can be a bit fresh and have an interest in the surroundings so his mind is still young enough.’

Mr Medici is another Asian entry, having qualified through the Champions And Chater Cup at Sha Tin in Hong Kong. Also placed in the Group 1 Hong Kong Gold Cup in February, the six-year-old’s preparation is pleasing Saul McHugh, the travelling foreman for trainer Peter Ho.

‘He’s starting to get very fresh now, which is a bit unusual, he should be going the other way, but that’s Mr Medici, he’s always full of surprises,’ says McHugh. ‘He’d done a lot of work in Hong Kong before he had actually arrived here. Peter Ho knows the horse very well and… it’s starting to pay off.

‘His program is working in nicely, he knows the whole campaign so hopefully come the 16th, we should be near enough, if there are no setbacks – hopefully not – we should be spot on come the 16th.’

Irishman McHugh is on his first journey to Melbourne, but for Henson, it’s his second time down under. Last year, Balsaltico failed to match the near misses by Bauer and Purple Moon (second in 2007), finishing 18th, but there were lessons learned.

‘The one major thing for me was definitely the weather, the changing weather here and trying to keep the horses warm yet not too hot when it suddenly changes, but apart from that it’s trying to adapt with the feed and make sure that you can get the best you can.

‘Every day is a learning curve down here to be honest with you but hopefully I can get it right this year.’

For McHugh and Mr Medici, the trip has already been worthwhile.

‘The horse is having such a great time, I can’t believe, every day he seems to be enjoying it more and more. He’s nearly having as good a time as us and that’s hard to do.’

Evan Harding is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University and sport editor of upstart. During the Spring Carnival he is working on the Racing World Daily Bite, which can be seen on the Racing Victoria website

See also: ‘Beginner’s guide to the 2010 Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival’ by Ben Asgari