Leading owner may swerve Melbourne Cup with O'Brien runners due to virus fears
Leading owner Lloyd Williams' hopes of a seventh Melbourne Cup win could be hampered by the uncertainty of the Covid-19 situation in the city, with the prospect of his Joseph O'Brien-trained contenders travelling from Ireland under threat.
Williams, who was involved with O'Brien's 2017 winner Rekindling for one of his record six Cup triumphs, said that the health of travelling staff would take precedence over sporting ambition when considering whether to travel horses from Ireland for the spring carnival.
Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Charlie Appleby and Saeed bin Suroor both confirmed to local officials this week that they would not be taking horses to Melbourne, owing to the state of disaster which has been declared across Victoria as cases of coronavirus have spiked dramatically.
Williams said on Wednesday that while the Melbourne Spring Carnival is "number one on my agenda", the change in Melbourne to stage four restrictions had meant his sizeable spring team currently being trained in Ireland by O'Brien is not certain of travelling.
Williams said: "It's too early to say, but travelling now is a greater consideration than it was 72 hours ago. Melbourne [over the] next few weeks will have a bearing on the future.
"If there was any concern for staff travelling, I would not allow my group of horses to come - health is paramount."
Williams part-owns five of the eight horses nominated for the 100th Cox Plate by O'Brien when entries closed on Tuesday. The five are Buckhurst, Degraves, Pondus, Master Of Reality and Twilight Payment.
He is expected to have even more nominations from the O'Brien stable for the Melbourne Cup when entries close on August 25. He also has a handful of locally trained stayers, such as Adelaide Cup winner King Of Leogrance, who are certain to be among the Melbourne Cup entries.
Williams may also have the option of having the horses sent out to Australia to be trained locally – possibly at his Macedon Lodge property – for their specific spring targets.
The Hall Of Fame owner left no doubt as to his wishes this spring, saying: "Obviously, I am very keen on the Melbourne carnival – I'm probably the oldest/longest participant back to the 1960s. It is number one on my agenda.
"Racing in Melbourne has been a very large part of my life. The future is in the hands of the Good Lord."
Additional reporting by Scott Burton
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