Gatewood: will only face a maximum of six rivals in Geelong CupPICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos)
Geelong Cup field pleases Gatewood connections
Preview: Australia, Wednesday 6am BST (live on ATR)
Geelong: Geelong Cup (Group 3 hcap) 1m4f, turf, 3yo+
FOR all the practical reasons, Wednesday's Geelong Cup is of vital importance to Australia's biggest racing event.
Other than that, it could easily be mistaken for the feature race on a European card.
Only seven runners have accepted for the $300,000 Group Three event that has become as important as any other in the lead-up to the Melbourne Cup.
For the English runner Gatewood, the Geelong Cup provides the last opportunity to gain a start in next month's Flemington "two-miler" and owner Terry Henderson has welcomed the small field.
"The small field makes it just like one of those European races, so he should feel at home," Henderson said.
Gatewood arrived in Australia with outstanding form and his owner is certain he would have lived up to it had he been given the chance in the Herbert Power Stakes (2400m/1m4f) at Caulfield.
Gatewood finished seventh to the French horse Shahwardi, having been blocked for a run over the final 300m.
"It was really only a track gallop for him," Henderson said.
"He never got a run at them, he was never tested."
With only six opponents - and possibly five if the track is too firm - Gatewood is unlikely to strike the problems he did at Caulfield.
And Henderson believes he is adaptable enough to cope with the vagaries that often arise in small fields.
"He can be ridden forward or back and he has a very good turn of foot," he said.
Another who needs to win to be certain of a Melbourne Cup start is the French entry Brigantin, the joint-favourite at Geelong with Gatewood in early markets.
Brigantin will be ridden on Wednesday for the first time by Italian jockey Umberto Rispoli who has never been near Geelong.
But Florian Bouvarel, the foreman for champion French trainer Andre Fabre, said his boss had confidence in the rider.
"Monsieur Fabre, he doesn't put on the bad jockey," Bouvarel said.
Brigantin is on the fourth line of betting at $10 in the Melbourne Cup and if he was to follow his compatriots Americain and Dunaden, the past two winners of the Geelong and Melbourne Cups, he would threaten for favouritism.
The third international runner is Tac De Boistron whose local trainer Mick Kent said he didn't expect the horse to be compet itive until he got to 3200m (2m).
Kent said also that he wouldn't run at Geelong if the track was too firm.