'He should just about win' - which Melbourne Cup trainer is typically upbeat?
Tuesday: 4.00 Flemington
Lexus Melbourne Cup (Group 1) | 2m | 3yo+ | SKY
Equine welfare and international involvement have been major themes in advance of this year's A$8 million (£4.4m/€5.21m) Lexus Melbourne Cup.
A number of changes including enhanced veterinary checks pre- and post-travel for international runners at the Melbourne Spring Carnival, and in Australia's biggest race, were introduced in an attempt to limit the possibility of another prominent fatality following the death of 2019 Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck at Flemington 12 months ago.
With such intense focus and assessment required – not to mention the difficulties still being caused to international travel by Covid-19 regulations – European participation in the Melbourne Cup this year has plummeted.
Only two horses will go to post on Tuesday following the withdrawal of the Ismail Mohammed-trained Away He Goes due to a tendon injury picked up soon after his arrival.
It is the lowest number of European-trained runners in the race since six started in 2010, the year Americain triumphed for Alain de Royer-Dupre. Five European runners have since landed the prize, including three times in the last four years, when the first three runners home on each occasion were also trained in Europe.
This time, Twilight Payment, who provided Joseph O'Brien with a second Melbourne Cup success last year, and Spanish Mission represent Europe, albeit the latter only after he came through an 11th hour veterinary check.
However, having been cleared, the American-owned Spanish Mission provides trainer Andrew Balding with the opportunity to cap a memorable 2021, with the task of steering the five-year-old at Flemington handed to 2019 Cup winner Craig Williams.
"I was really pleased with the way that he felt," Williams told racing.com after riding Spanish Mission on Sunday. "Everything has been all speculation for the last 48 hours. I have no concerns at all, he's a really healthy, happy, fit horse and really trained for the Melbourne Cup – and he's in really good order.
"Obviously we have a really strong criteria for horses to be passed fit to race at acceptance time and I think it's a great policy. They were very confident [he would pass] and I could see why he passed the way he felt this morning."
While Spanish Mission has to prove his ability to handle the Melbourne Cup test, Twilight Payment has already shown his capability, the same of which can also be said for his trainer.
Twilight Payment concedes weight all round in this year's Cup and O'Brien, who captured another of Australia's premier prizes, the Cox Plate, with State Of Rest a little over a week ago, said: "Twilight Payment's in good nick. He travelled down really well. Mark Power and Sean Corby are really happy with him.
"It will be a tough task to carry all that weight but we'll give it our best shot."
What they say
Peter Moody, trainer of Incentivise
I'm not nervous, and once again, for the fact the horse has made it easy for me; he's done everything asked of him. I believe if he holds that form, and what I've seen at home tells me he will hold his form, he should just about win the race.
Brae Sokolski, co-owner of Verry Elleegant
We'd have liked to have seen her closer to the speed. From [stall 19] we will be a bit more negative. It is what it is. We've got the A team. It's Chris Waller and James McDonald; couldn't be in better hands. The horse is in fantastic order. She galloped fantastic this morning and she deserves her chance to win a Melbourne Cup.
David Eustace, co-trainer of Explosive Jack, Persan, Grand Promenade and Floating Artist
You can put a line through Explosive Jack's Caulfield Cup run which didn't go to plan. He loves two miles and Flemington. So will Persan and so will Grand Promenade. Floating Artist is right down at the bottom of the weights and in great form, so it will come down to the pace of the race and the right run.
Murray Baker, co-trainer of The Chosen One
He's a proven stayer who ran fourth in the race last year, while he also has a runner-up finish in the Sydney Cup so we know the trip won't worry him. You always need that bit of luck on your shoulder, but he has an experienced big-race jockey [Damian Lane] aboard, the weather and track looks like it will be perfect, so it is up to the horse now.
Terry Henderson, chief executive of OTI Racing, co-owners of Selino and Future Score
Selino is guaranteed to stay the distance with this race being his target since his Sydney Cup victory in April. Future Score is also in the Cup field after coming through his Moonee Valley Gold Cup run well. He will be ridden by Dean Yendall, who knows the horse well.
Adrian Bott, co-trainer of Knights Order and Sir Lucan
Knights Order backs up into the race after running on Saturday. It might seem like a lot, but it's a proven formula in the past and it'll be a nice set up for him. Sir Lucan is an intriguing runner. He arrived in good order but he's improved every day and the closer we've got to the race the more pleased we've been with him. He has a lot of class and we're looking forward to a bold performance from him.
Symon Wilde, trainer of Tralee Rose
The preparation has gone perfectly. We're really hopeful and are getting really excited about it now. I think she'll be fine at the trip — I think she'll gobble up the two miles, so that would be the least of my concerns.
Harry Herbert, founder and chairman of Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, owners of Great House
This horse just keeps getting better with every run. We always knew that he would continue to improve and we thought that the Melbourne Cup might come up too soon this year, but he has certainly earned his place in this year's race.
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