Melbourne diary: second wave of Europeans en route as raiding party hits limit
The second and final shipment of European horses have left Heathrow and will arrive in Melbourne on Saturday shortly after the top-class Caulfield card kicks off, bringing the total number of overseas representatives at the Spring Carnival to 29.
Among them are the Irish Derby hero Latrobe (Joseph O’Brien), Chester Cup and Henry II Stakes winner Magic Circle (Ian Williams), Prix Maurice de Nieuil winner Marmelo (Hughie Morrison), Ebor scorer Muntahaa (John Gosden), last year’s Melbourne Cup fifth Nakeeta (Iain Jardine) and the Aidan O’Brien-trained trio of Idaho, Rostropovich and The Pentagon, taking the Ballydoyle handler’s string in Australia to eight. The second horse off the plane will have the honour of becoming the 250th international competitor in the Spring Carnival’s 25-year history.
Some major riding plans are starting to take shape. With Joseph O'Brien unable to call upon last year's partner Corey Brown, who has committed to Magic Circle, the reigning Melbourne Cup-winning trainer has turned to last season's Sydney Premiership winner Brenton Avdulla to ride Latrobe.
Riding plans are still unconfirmed for Nakeeta, who has the same weight as last year in the Melbourne Cup but is far from guaranteed a run at 36th on the order of entry. Arrangements will have to be finalised sooner than others as his trainer Iain Jardine plans on getting a run into him to try and move up the list
"He's very well, his season was set up for the Ebor and he ran a huge race, it was a blinder," said Jardine. "It was a faster time, he had more weight, so it was a solid performance and he's run right up to scratch. We were trying to get him a wee bit of form before he went to Melbourne, so that's why he went to Doncaster. It was a handicap and he was giving a lot of weight away, but he's come back very fresh and well. I went to see him at Newmarket before he flew and I'm happy, all's good.
"I think we covered everything we wanted to last year, the Australians were very helpful, they made everything pretty easy for us. If I was doing anything different it would be getting a better draw. That was the problem last year, but he still did his best and ran a big race. He's in the Cup with the same weight, which is good, but he's not guaranteed to get in, so we'll see what happens. He'll run at Moonee Valley and we'll see how he gets on in that – it won't be an easy task."
No room at the inn
Joseph O’Brien may be the reigning Melbourne Cup-winning trainer, but Racing Victoria have knocked back his Master Of Reality from this year’s Spring Carnival.
Racing Victoria built an additional eight boxes at Werribee this year, but such was the interest after the success of the Europeans last year – and the A$5 million (£2.69m) increase to prize-money for the three major races – that they were still oversubscribed.
Paul Bloodworth, Racing Victoria’s general manager of international and racing operations, does not believe there will be further increases made to that capacity in the short-term. He said: "We’ve a record amount of horses here this year so it is unusual, but we base the entries on their international ratings and he was the lowest rated.
"We’ve got a small amount of capacity to build more boxes in one of the yards, but we’re going to have 29 horses running for international trainers and another 11 that are coming in to race for local trainers. I don’t think we need any more than that, in the short term it’d be highly unlikely.
"It’s a good sign that internationally our carnival is well regarded, and trainers are starting to look at other races as well as our prize-money is so good, but our ambition is for quality over quantity. This year we’ve over 20 horses rated 110 and above and eight rated 115 and above. That’s Group 1 quality internationally.
"Last year we didn’t have one horse who came here rated 115 or over, so we’re really pleased with that as we want the best horses in the world to come here and compete with our best."
Comeback almost complete
James McDonald is a name familiar to British punters for several reasons. He had a highly successful stint in Britain a couple of years ago, and returned in June to win the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot on Expert Eye. He was also Godolphin’s jockey in Australia until, back in 2016, he picked up a 18-month ban for a A$1,000 winning bet on a horse he rode.
I made a mistake betting and broke the rules.— James McDonald (@mcacajamez) December 22, 2016
I accept responsibility for that.
But I am so disappointed with the penalty and will appeal.
McDonald’s undeniable talent has meant he has swiftly returned to the top of the sport since serving his ban. He leads the New South Wales Metropolitan Jockey Premiership and rode a five-timer (from six rides) at Warwick Farm on Wednesday, but he is yet to win a Group 1 since his return.
That could be about to change as on Saturday at Caulfield there are four Group 1s, and McDonald rides three favourites and a second favourite. He partners Smart Melody in the Schweppes Thousand Guineas (5.10am), D’Argento in the Ladbrokes Stakes (6.35) and the odds-on The Autumn Sun in the Ladbrokes Caulfield Guineas (7.15am), while Hartnell, aboard whom he will wear the Godolphin blue, is behind only the Chris Waller-trained Shillelagh in the Aquis Toorak Handicap (5.45am) market.
There cannot be too many jockeys that have ridden for Godolphin and Coolmore on the same card – Frankie Dettori on Arc day 2012 when he rode Tha’ir in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere and Colour Vision in the Prix du Cadran either side of partnering Camelot in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe springs to mind – but here it will happen twice on the same card. McDonald rides Yucatan, who now races in the colours of Lloyd Williams despite Coolmore and Tabor remaining listed as owners, in the Herbert Power (7.50am), while James Doyle has three rides for Charlie Appleby and is also aboard Spirit Of Valor in the Schillaci Stakes (4.30am).
Head to the international section of the Racing Post website for all Stuart Riley's updates from Melbourne