It's Melbourne Cup night!
Fame Game photo courtesy of Japan Racing Association.
Australia's famed Melbourne Cup (G1) will be contested for the 155th time, with 24 runners set to line up in the "race that stops a nation." For North American viewers, post time is 11 p.m. (EST) Monday night.
Since Ireland's Dermot Weld blazed the trail with Vintage Crop (1993) and Media Puzzle (2002), the two-mile handicap has become an international affair in recent years, and tonight's renewal features no fewer than 11 invaders. That's not even including the European imports who've since made their home in Australia.
Japan's Fame Game tops the market. A proven stayer who's won the past two runnings of the 2 1/8-mile Diamond (G3), the son of Heart's Cry missed by a neck to the gifted but mercurial Gold Ship in the Tenno Sho Spring (G1) at this trip. The Sunday Racing runner was freshened in preparation for his Oz adventure, which began with a controversial sixth in the October 17 Caulfield Cup (G1). It was controversial in so far as trainer Yoshitada Munakata and jockey Zac Purton were hauled before the stewards to explain their tactics -- he was last cornering for home before weaving through the field late.
Connections are indicating that Fame Game probably won't drop anchor out the back here. Drawn in the middle in post 12, he'll carry the third highest weight with 125 pounds.
Although Caulfield Cup hero Mongolian Khan has unfortunately been sidelined by colic, several other contenders are also stepping up from that 1 1/2-mile feature. Chief among them is English shipper Trip to Paris, winner of this summer's Ascot Gold Cup (G1). Trained by Ed Dunlop, the four-year-old gelding launched a terrific rally when a half-length second at Caulfield. The added distance will help, and he gets in at 121 pounds. Tommy Berry rides from post 14.
Trip to Paris accompanies stablemate Red Cadeaux, already a legend for finishing second in three Melbourne Cups. After losing by a millimeter to Dunaden in 2011, Dunlop's lovable globetrotter took silver behind Fiorente (2013) and Protectionist (2014). Now nine years old, Red Cadeaux will be attempting this race for the fifth consecutive year. He was last seen finishing a distant third in the August 15 Geoffrey Freer (G3) at Newbury. It's easy to imagine him passing the baton to the young Trip to Paris at Flemington, but the grand old veteran has a way of exceeding expectations in this corner of the world.
The third through fifth in the Caulfield Cup -- German import Our Ivanhowe, New Zealand-bred four-year-old filly Gust of Wind and the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Snow Sky -- all try two miles for the first time here.
Of that trio, Gust of Wind may have the most appeal. Both of her performances at 1 1/2 miles -- a victory over eventual Cox Plate (G1) stunner Winx in the Australian Oaks (G1) and a creditable fourth in the Caulfield Cup -- bode well, and she hails from a deep female line. Gust of Wind gets in with a feathery 112 pounds and should offer value at 25-1.
Rounding out the Caulfield Cup preppers were Who Shot Thebarman (seventh), Hokko Brave (10th) and Grand Marshal (11th). Who Shot Thebarman is adept at both Flemington and at the distance. He landed the two-mile Auckland Cup (G1) and finished third in the Melbourne Cup in 2014, and missed in a photo in the April 11 Sydney Cup (G1) when trying to give stablemate Grand Marshal five pounds. Hokko Brave is a compatriot of Fame Game. While he was a close third in last year's Tenno Sho Spring, he doesn't bring quite the same level of form from Japan.
Snow Sky has class as the winner of the Yorkshire Cup (G2), defeating ill-fated Brown Panther, and the Hardwicke (G2) in a tactical upstaging of next-out King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) victor Postponed. And the Juddmonte homebred was third in last fall's St Leger (G1). The concern is that he's lumbering the top weight of 128 pounds, and that smacks of a bit too much against these.
Australian star Criterion faces a similarly tall task to tote 127 pounds over a distance that could prove beyond him. Although the son of Sebring arguably outstayed his pedigree in the 1 1/2-mile Australian Derby (G1) back in 2014, he's best known for his exploits at 1 1/4 miles. His other three Group 1s have come at that trip in the Rosehill Guineas (G1), Randwick's lucrative Queen Elizabeth (G1) and the Caulfield (G1) two starts back. And the Hayes/Dabernig charge exits a best-of-the-rest effort behind Winx in that vicinity in the Cox Plate.
Hayes and Dabernig likely have a better shot with the upwardly mobile Almoonqith, who brings more of a budding stayer's profile and carries 117 pounds. With Mike de Kock for the Dubai Carnival, the Shadwell colorbearer captured the Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3) before finishing sixth to course record-setting Brown Panther in the Dubai Gold Cup (G2). Almoonqith has been rounding into form in his new base of operations, most recently rolling from off the pace in the Geelong Cup (G3). The trip is a query, but as a progressive son of Dynaformer, he could see it out yet.
Aside from Criterion, prepping in the Cox Plate were Hartnell (fifth) and Preferment (ninth). Hartnell prevailed in the two-mile Queen's Vase (G3) at Royal Ascot in the summer of 2014 before finding new life in Australia. Godolphin's import scored a career high in the 1 1/2-mile BMW (G1) in March, and has been building up to this -- his major objective -- for trainer John O'Shea. Godolphin has also just dispatched Sky Hunter from Saeed bin Suroor's yard in England. The lightly-raced five-year-old garnered the Dubai City of Gold (G2) in March, wasn't seen again until his second to well-regarded The Corsican in the September 19 Newbury "Arc Trial" (G3), and sits his first serious test of stamina here.
Preferment, a stablemate of Who Shot Thebarman and Grand Marshal, is the best fancied of the Chris Waller trio. By the preeminent Australasian sire Zabeel (a stamina influence responsible for three Melbourne Cup winners), Preferment boasts a two-for-two local mark comprising last year's Victoria Derby (G1) and the October 4 Turnbull (G1).
Returning to the international contingent, Willie Mullins sends out former hurdler Max Dynamite, who catapulted into the Melbourne Cup picture with a 4 1/2-length romp in the August 21 Lonsdale Cup (G2) at York. He left rivals Trip to Paris and Big Orange well back that day on rain-softened ground. Big Orange has been a feast-or-famine type for Michael Bell, upsetting the Princess of Wales's (G2) in tremendously game front-running fashion, and following up with another brave, stick-your-neck-out performance over Quest for More and Trip to Paris in the Goodwood Cup (G2). In his other three outings this year, however, he's been drubbed, and post 23 may prove a squeeze for the orange too.
Quest for More has risen through the handicap ranks for Roger Charlton, and beat Max Dynamite in the June 27 Northumberland Plate. In his Australian warm-up, he tired to 16th behind Almoonqith in the Geelong Cup.
Aidan O'Brien will be represented for the first time in seven years, with the duo of Kingfisher and Bondi Beach. Kingfisher, second to Australia in last year's Irish Derby (G1), was a significantly troubled second to Trip to Paris in the Ascot Gold Cup. But he's been beaten by double-digit margins since and enters under a current form cloud.
There's no such worry about Bondi Beach, who just lost the epic duel with Simple Verse in the St Leger in his latest. The Galileo colt has never finished worse than second in five starts, including a tight verdict over exciting stablemate Order of St George in the Curragh Cup (G3) and an inconvenienced second in the Great Voltigeur (G2). The concern is that the Northern Hemisphere three-year-old is treated as a four-year-old here, and the cavalry charge in a 24-horse field may be asking a lot for such an inexperienced type.
Two former O'Brien trainees have already made themselves at home in Australia -- The Offer, with Gai Waterhouse, and The United States, with Robert Hickmott. The Offer was an emerging star in early 2014, when smashing the Sydney Cup over two miles at Randwick. The Montjeu gelding missed last year's Melbourne Cup, but has raced himself into form of late, and punched his ticket with a victory in the October 28 Bendigo Cup (G3). Waterhouse has another chance with Excess Knowledge, a British import who chased home the now-sidelined Amralah in the October 10 Herbert Power (G2) at Caulfield and then just lasted in Saturday's Lexus S. (G3) over this course. The Juddmonte-bred is by Monsun, who's sired the past two Melbourne Cup heroes.
For O'Brien, The United States captured the 2013 Kilternan (aka Enterprise) (G3) at Leopardstown. Last time out for Hickmott, the son of Galileo ran down Prince of Penzance in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup (G2). The United States is a questionable stayer, however, given his speedy female line.
Rounding out the field is longshot Sertorius, an eight-year-old who was third to The Offer in last year's Sydney Cup.
Celebrate the culmination of our 5 for 5 Fridays at Australia with $5,000 in cash prizes on Emirates Melbourne Cup night.