O'Brien pair head Melbourne Cup market as Sir Dragonet leads home guard
Lexus Melbourne Cup (Group 1 Handicap) | 2m | 3yo+ | SKY
This year’s Lexus Melbourne Cup will be unlike any other in the 159-year history of Australia’s greatest race.
The pageantry provided by the 120,000 spectators, who usually pack Flemington’s three grandstands to the seams, will be nowhere to be found, the gates locked due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Yet while the day will be devoid of its carnival atmosphere, the action on the track looks to be as good as ever, with a battalion of British and Irish-trained challengers set to clash with some of Australia’s best.
Of the group of foreign runners, it is Aidan O’Brien who holds the strongest hand with Tiger Moth and Anthony Van Dyck locked together as the general 6-1 joint-favourites.
Anthony Van Dyck, who will be ridden by Winx’s jockey Hugh Bowman, won the 2019 Derby before embarking on a winless streak of seven races which came to an end when he got the better of Stradivarius in the Group 2 Prix Foy at Longchamp in September.
An excellent runner-up finish in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup on his first Australian start last month looks to have placed him in prime position for a Cup tilt, but he does have to carry top weight of 9st 3lb.
Tiger Moth has just four career starts compared with his stablemate’s 18, but a second in the Irish Derby behind Santiago and a maiden Group-level victory last time makes his unexposed profile intriguing.
However, the difficulty facing him will not be weight – he carries just 8st 4lb – but rather a wide draw in stall 23.
O’Brien said: “Everyone has been very happy with Anthony Van Dyck and Hugh Bowman was delighted with him when he rode him. He had a very good run in the Caulfield Cup.
“We were delighted with Tiger Moth’s run in the Irish Derby and again on Irish Champions Weekend. His prep has gone very well and it was always the plan to go straight to this race and not have a run in Australia beforehand.
“We’re happy with his weight and he’s shown he stays a mile and four furlongs well.”
While O’Brien is still searching for his first Melbourne Cup victory, his son Joseph is attempting to win his second.
The trainer saddles Twilight Payment and Master Of Reality this year, with both carrying the silks of owner Lloyd Williams as Rekindling did when winning at Flemington in 2017.
O’Brien said: “Master Of Reality went close last year and he’s in good form again this time. Twilight Payment has run a couple of career bests this season, even though he’s not getting any younger. He’s holding his form well.”
Of the British-trained contenders, it is Prince Of Arran who catches the eye as he returns for a third go at a race in which he has been placed in the last two runnings. Andrew Balding is represented by Dashing Willoughby, who finished last in the Caulfield Cup last time.
The Australian challenge is headed by Sir Dragonet, who won the Group 1 Cox Plate last month on his first start for co-trainers Ciaron Maher and David Eustace since leaving Aidan O’Brien.
Australian Derby winner Russian Camelot and last year’s Cup fifth Surprise Baby are the other locally trained runners to figure prominently in the market.
The ground at Flemington was listed as good on Sunday.
What they say
Willie Mullins, trainer of Stratum Albion
He's travelled down very well and his work has been going nicely. We were very happy with his run in the Lonsdale Cup last time. He's got a nice draw and hopefully the ground should be fine for him.
Michael Walker, jockey of Dashing Willoughby
There were a few things I wasn't happy with going into the Caulfield Cup. There's no money on the training track but for me I needed to feel the improvement going into the Melbourne Cup. He felt like a different horse.
Charlie Fellowes, trainer of Prince Of Arran
It's a tough race but I couldn't be happier with where he is. His prep has been targeted towards this race specifically and if that makes a difference we are in with a massive shout.
Andreas Wohler, trainer of Ashrun
We shall have a closer look at how other horses are drawn and how they move on, forward, backward. The way he won on Saturday means he should have a chance of being in very good money.
Chris Waller, trainer of Verry Elleegant and Finche
Verry Elleegant is a very good horse with a big heart but she will need that heart. We respect every runner but let’s hope there is not a superstar in the race to beat her. Finche hasn’t had much luck in his two Melbourne Cup runs. If he can get a nice run he will be fighting out the finish.
Read more on the Melbourne Cup here...
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