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England’s Highclere Racing hoping to mount another Melbourne Cup attempt as Northumberland Plate looms

June 22, 2011

England’s Highclere Thoroughbred Racing will be out to break England’s hoodoo in Australia’s greatest race, with their eyes firmly set on winning the Melbourne Cup.

Highclere has had a sterling twelve months, with the highlight undoubtedly Harbinger’s demolition of a class field in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (1m 4f) at Ascot last July.

Unfortunately, Harbinger had to be retired following that run.

Nevertheless, they are hoping to build on that record, preparing for a third attempt at the race that stops the nation.

Highclere’s Distinction ran in the Melbourne Cup twice, finishing an unlucky 6th in 2004 and a disappointing 19th in 2005.

Highclere’s managing director Harry Herbert has told Just Horse Racing that, as a speaker at a Carbine Club lunch, he will be here for the Melbourne Cup regardless of whether he has a runner or not.

Nevertheless, he has a number of horses under consideration for a Melbourne tilt, led by last year’s Queen’s Vase runner up Theology.

Theology has raced inconsistently since last year’s Royal Ascot carnival, with midfield finishes behind Rebel Soldier in the Gordon Stakes and Arctic Cosmos in the English St Leger.

Upon his seasonal reappearance, he started favourite in the Sagaro Stakes but could only manage a disappointing sixth of seven behind Askar Tau.

At his last start he finished second in a Listed race but it was subsequently discovered that he had strained muscles in his back.

While not a serious injury, it ruled him out of the Ascot Gold Cup.

It is hoped he will be able to run in some of the later season Cups, like the Goodwood Cup, possibly en route to the Melbourne Cup.

Herbert says that this year’s Cup was always the plan for Theology, who was touted as a potential visitor last year by trainer Jeremy Noseda.

Three year old Census may also be considered for a trip but

Census finished second to emerging star Brown Panther in the King George V Stakes at Royal Ascot last week.

However, as with Theology last year, they are likely to wait until 2012.

Herbert also considers this weekend’s Northumberland Plate co-favourite Activate a possibility of coming to Australia.

The Northumberland Plate, run at Newcastle Racecourse, is considered England’s best two mile handicap, although surprisingly only two winners have come to Australia – those being Quick Ransom (1994) and Far Cry (1999).

Under new balloting conditions for the Melbourne Cup, horses must be Listed winners or Group placegetters at a staying distance to pass the first ballot clause.

However, placegetters of England’s prominent staying handicaps – the Northumberland Plate, Ebor Handicap and the Cesarewitch – also pass the first ballot clause, despite not having Listed status.

This is because they would be at Group level if run in Australia.

The owners of Newcastle Racecourse, Northern Racing, are also encouraging the winning owners to bring their horse to Australia by offering as an extra prize an expenses-paid trip (for the owners, not the horse) to Melbourne.

Despite trainer Michael Bell saying it was not on the agenda as he was unlikely to gain a start, Herbert believes Activate could be the right type for the Melbourne Cup.

An improving type, the four year old is a winner of four of his ten starts.

At his first run this season, he won a two mile handicap at Haydock, giving him good claims for the Northumberland Plate.

Other Melbourne Cup aspirants in the Northumberland Plate are Ireland’s Mount Athos and The Queen’s Tactician.

Mount Athos was touted as a possibility for this year’s Cup last June, and new trainer David Wachman is hopeful he can qualify for the Melbourne Cup.

“The owner, Dr Koukash, and I have planned this race for him and we are very much looking forward to it. For the future there are plenty of options and the Melbourne Cup could be one of them,” he told Sporting Life.

As for Tactician, the lightly raced four year old has only won one of his eight starts, but has raced in good company.

In last year’s King George V Stakes, he finished eighth to Dandino, alongside Contract Caterer – who is now trained in Australia by Chris Waller.

With The Queen likely to be in Australia for the Melbourne Cup, there is a chance she could have her second Melbourne Cup runner.

Her first was Arabian Story, who finished sixth to Might and Power in 1997.

The Northumberland Plate will be run at 12:05am (AEST) Sunday morning.

Written by Andrew Hawkins

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