Twelve months ago Charlie Appleby’s star horse created a piece of history by becoming the first British-trained racehorse to win the Melbourne Cup, in doing so also ending Dubai-based global racing operation Godolphin’s long wait to win the race. Kerrin McEvoy was in the saddle to lead home a 1-2-3 for British-trained runners with Marmelo taking second and Prince Of Arran claiming third.
Cross Counter is back in Melbourne to defend his crown under William Buick. Since that famous triumph, the horse has won the Dubai Gold Cup and but seen defeat in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, the Goodwood Cup and the Irish St Leger at the Curragh. Nevertheless hopes are high of a repeat success for Godolphin at Flemington, despite the withdrawal of Ispolini and an injury to their other Cup hope Red Galileo.
Charlie Fellowes is hoping better preparation will see Prince Of Arran go two places better than 12 months ago. Despite having finished an excellent third on his Australia debut in the Herbert Power Stakes the previous month, the globetrotting six-year-old looked like missing the cut for the 2018 Melbourne Cup. However, he earned himself a last-minute starting berth by winning the Lexus Stakes just three days before and then ran a great race albeit in defeat to finish third as Cross Counter took the spoils.
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Fellowes plans this time around have been a little easier for the Australian showpiece after Prince Of Arran confirmed his place in the final field with a narrow victory in the Geelong Cup. It has meant he has had just over a fortnight to prepare for his second Melbourne Cup bid, rather than last year’s 72 hours.
The third and final British challenger is the Richard Hannon-trained Raymond Tusk, who was last seen finishing a creditable fourth in the Ebor at York in August. Jamie Spencer is in the saddle this time and will carry the colours of the hugely successful syndication group Middleham Park Racing, for whom some 15 owners are involved with this high-class four-year-old.
Joseph O’Brien won the 2017 Melbourne Cup with Rekindling – and fresh from becoming the youngest trainer to saddle a Breeders’ Cup winner when Iridessa stormed home in the Filly And Mare Turf at Santa Anita on Saturday, he launches a four-pronged assault at Flemington. Frankie Dettori takes the ride on Master Of Reality, James McDonald will steer Latrobe, Hugh Bowman is on Twilight Payment and John Allen keeps the ride on Downdraft following his Lexus Stakes win on Saturday.
Aidan O’Brien has three runners in Il Paradiso (to be ridden by Wayne Lordan), Magic Wand (with Ryan Moore) and Hunting Horn (Seamie Heffernan), meaning the father-son partnership will have nearly one third of the 24-strong field.
Meanwhile, Japanese runner Mer De Glace is seeking his own slice of history in Australia’s biggest race and has been given a favourable draw from barrier two
The Caulfield Cup winner will attempt to become the first since Ethereal in 2001 to do the Caulfield Cup-Melbourne Cup double. If he is successful, the five-year-old will complete a clean sweep of the three biggest races in the Spring Carnival for Japan, following Lys Gracieux’s victory in the Cox Plate.
With nearly half the field — 11 out of the final 24 —being overseas-trained gallopers, this year’s renewal of the Melbourne Cup promises to be as intriguing as ever.
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