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Clearing the murky picture for Melbourne spring internationals

August 24, 2011

If you were confused about potential international equine visitors for the Melbourne Spring Carnival last week, then you would be bamboozled following an interesting weekend of global racing.

At the moment, the only sure thing is this – Hong Kong’s John Moore will bring two horses to Melbourne this spring, with both set to arrive in Australia on September 6.

Champions and Chater Cup winner Mighty High will come down for the Cups, while Silver Grecian will be aimed at races up to a mile – including the Group 1 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (1400m), the Group 1 Toorak Handicap (1600m) and the Group 1 Emirates Stakes (1600m).

Moore has heeded advice from the connections of last year’s Cup visitor from Hong Kong, Mr Medici.

Mr Medici also won the Champions and Chater Cup in May last year before coming to Melbourne, however the Caulfield Cup was his first run in almost six months.

As a result, Mighty High will have at least one run before the Cups, in a 1700m open handicap on September 24.

There will also be the option to have another run before the Caulfield Cup, if Moore feels it is necessary.

Hong Kong is also likely to be represented by champion griffin (two year old) Bear Hero.

While two year old racing is rare in Hong Kong, Bear Hero has been impressive in his limited starts to date.

He is likely to take on Golden Slipper winner Sepoy in the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m) on Derby Day, with trainer David Ferraris keen for the General Nediym colt to take on rivals his own age.

For the second year in a row, the Japanese are likely to return in a bid for their second Melbourne Cup success.

They famously ran the quinella with Delta Blues and Pop Rock in 2006.

But the equine influenza outbreaks in both Japan and Australia prevented their return until last year, when Tokai Trick ran midfield in both Cups.

This year, 2009 Tenno Sho winner Meiner Kitz and last year’s Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger) placegetter Beat Black look likely to make the trip to Melbourne.

The Kikuka Sho was a race won by Delta Blues in 2004.

While Beat Black’s form has tapered off this year, his form reads similar to that of Delta Blues before he came to Melbourne.

Meiner Kitz was days away from entering quarantine last year when he suffered a slight injury which, although not overly severe, was enough to put paid to Cup ambitions.

At the time, he was as short as $17 for the 2010 Melbourne Cup.

This year, the nine year old’s form has not been as good as in previous years, although he has still been competitive at the highest levels.

Both horses look to have starkly better form than Tokai Trick, who was disappointing last year.

And then we get to the Europeans.

Two key leadups were run last weekend – the Ebor Handicap (2800m), Europe’s richest handicap, and the Group 2 Prix Kergorlay (3000m), a race Americain won last year.

The Ebor looked to be the perfect opportunity for an up and coming European to boost their rating enough to get into the field.

However, the rich handicap was won by 25-1 shot Moyenne Corniche – a horse with only one prior win (in April 2008, mind you) next to its name.

Trainer Brian Ellison is determined to win the Melbourne Cup, having had a number of misfortunes related to the race in the past.

In 2005, Carte Diamond speared off the track while working at Flemington’s Breakfast with the Stars, forcing him out of the Cup and into a long rehabilitation program.

Two years later, Bay Story missed a run in the great race and took his place in the consolation, the Lavazza Long Black.

However, he broke down fatally in front of the packed grandstand as he led the field with a hundred metres to go.

Moyenne Corniche is very unlikely to be amongst visitors this year, with the Melbourne Cup on the agenda for 2012.

However, stablemate Saptapadi, fifth in the Ebor, may come to Melbourne – as with many of the Europeans, the query is the weight they will receive.

Ellison has expressed his doubts that Saptapadi would get enough weight to force his way into the field.

The Queen’s horse Tactician produced an outstanding run given the circumstances to finish second in the Ebor.

Ridden by apprentice Joseph O’Brien (son of master trainer Aidan), the saddle slipped around the halfway point of the race.

Yet Tactician, ever so gamely, kept coming at the line, despite looking beaten many times in the straight.

While he may be too dour for Australian racing conditions, he is likely to be given his chance in the Melbourne Cup.

Trainer Michael Bell confirmed overnight that Melbourne was on the agenda for Tactician.

The favourite was Godolphin’s Lost In The Moment, a strong runner up in the Goodwood Cup the start prior.

However, while not disgraced, he was slightly disappointing in the Ebor.

With Godolphin not entering any horses for the Caulfield Cup, it is hard to know who they intend to send to Australia.

However, they have confirmed to Racing Victoria that they are likely to bring two horses to Melbourne.

Also amongst the favourites but unlikely to come were the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Modun and the Mark Johnston-trained Fox Hunt.

Johnston was at the forefront in France too, winning the Prix Kergorlay with Jukebox Jury.

A consistent stayer in England, Jukebox Jury had a perfect run on pace in a race devoid of any speed.

He is considered an unlikely Melbourne visitor, with Johnston mapping an ambitious global campaign through Ireland, the US, Japan and Hong Kong.

However, the form from the race is likely to prove valuable come spring time.

Last year’s Prix Kergorlay winner (and subsequent Melbourne Cup champion) Americain could only manage tenth after knuckling at the start, finding himself a long way back off a muddling pace and getting into trouble in the straight.

Nevertheless, he is preparing to enter quarantine ahead of a tilt at the Cox Plate/Melbourne Cup double.

Just ahead of him was Prix de Barbeville winner Dunaden, who was caught wide with no cover in what was a poor ride.

Trainer Mikel Delzangles confirmed he would still come to Melbourne, considering the Kergorlay was no guide to his chances.

He is likely to go through the Geelong Cup on his way to the Melbourne Cup.

At his previous start, Jukebox Jury had finished a half length third behind last year’s Melbourne flop Drunken Sailor.

Drunken Sailor has undergone an incredible form improvement in the last twelve months, which has seen him stamp himself as a genuinely classy stayer with a win in the Glorious Stakes and a placing in the Hardwicke Stakes.

He is likely to be a part of Luca Cumani’s battalion again this year, with a guaranteed start in the Melbourne Cup a lure.

Drunken Sailor will be joined by stablemates Sahara Sun, who runs next week, and Manighar, who was also in Melbourne last year where he finished fifth in the Caulfield Cup and seventh in the Melbourne Cup.

Manighar ran a gutsy fourth behind Jukebox Jury in the Kergorlay after facing a wide run, with many considering his run to be the best outside of the winner.

Ascot Gold Cup and Kergorlay placegetter Brigantin is also considered a chance of coming this year, but is more likely to visit in 2012.

Outside of the main races, Harris Tweed faded to finish fourth in the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup (3200m) at York.

Winner Opinion Poll and runner up Duncan are both confirmed non-runners, as they will head to a race on Champions Day at Ascot.

It is believed the connections of Harris Tweed are still keen to make the trip if suitable arrangements can be made.

With quarantine cleared at Ballydoyle, Aidan O’Brien is looking to return to Melbourne for the first time since his dismal 2008 experience.

Users on social media site Twitter reported that O’Brien was considering bringing three year olds Marksmanship and Memphis Tennessee for the Melbourne Cup.

O’Brien has had mixed success with the European three year olds, finishing third with Mahler in 2007 but 20th with Alessandro Volta in 2008.

There is also continued hope that O’Brien will decide to bring Arlington Million winner Cape Blanco out for the Cox Plate.

It was indicated earlier this year that Chechnyan president Ramzan Kadyrov wanted to return to Melbourne for the Cup after his horse Mourilyan finished third to Shocking in 2009.

Singapore International Cup winner Gitano Hernando and Queen’s Vase winner Mikhail Glinka, both owned by Kadyrov and trained by Herman Brown were under consideration for Melbourne trips – however, it is not clear if this is still the case.

Also of interest are German horses Lucas Cranach and Illo, who have been bought by separate Australian syndicates.

Lucas Cranach will join the stables of Anthony Freedman, while Illo will be prepared by the master Bart Cummings.

While there will obviously be casualties before horses embark on their trip to Australia, this year has the potential to be one of the largest visiting contingents of recent times.

Melbourne Cup nominations, taken next Thursday (September 1), will provide a clearer picture as to likely visitors for the race that stops the nation.

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