By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien will hope for a long-awaited breakthrough at Flemington Racecourse on Tuesday, after being pipped for a maiden Melbourne Cup win by his son Joseph’s horse Rekindling in last year’s race.
The master trainer has saddled nine runners in the “the race that stops a nation” and came closest last year when Johannes Vermeer was run down late in the two-mile handicap.
He will have another three chances in the 24-horse field, with five-year-old stallion Yucatan the 9/2 favourite to win the gruelling A$7.3 million ($5.3 million) race that lures the world’s richest stables.
O’Brien has also prepared 16/1 chance The Cliffsofmoher, who ran third in the prestigious 2,400-metre Caulfield Cup last month, a race often seen as a good form guide for Flemington.
Four-year-old colt Rostropovich (25/1), runnerup in the Irish Derby in June, is O’Brien’s third entrant.
The son of Galileo, Yucatan’s odds lengthened after drawing barrier 23 but he showed his class by blitzing the field at the Herbert Power Stakes four weeks ago to secure a berth for Tuesday’s race.
“It is a very difficult race to win,” O’Brien told local radio station RSN 927 on Sunday.
“You have to have a horse in on a nice mark. You have to have class and you have to stay.
“Yucatan looks to be on a very good mark. Rostropovich looks to be in on a very good mark. We’re happy with Cliffsofmoher but he’s a very well exposed horse.”
Once a largely provincial event dominated by local and New Zealand-bred horses, the Melbourne Cup has become a cosmopolitan affair, with four foreign-trained horses galloping off with the trophy in its last eight runnings.
Victory has proved elusive for the powerful Godolphin stable, however, and this year’s race marks 20 years since Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum made his first bid to win Australia’s most famous race.
Godolphin trainer Saeed Bin Suroor’s Best Solution is a formidable entrant, and underlined his class by winning the Caulfield Cup.
He will also have a favourable barrier at six but will be saddled with top weight at 57.5 kg. Only two horses, Think Big in 1975 and three-times champion mare Makybe Diva in 2005, have carried a greater burden to victory.
Godolphin has other strong chances in four-year-old gelding Cross Counter (10/1) and Avilius (14/1), prepared by James Cummings, the grandson of Australia’s late master trainer Bart Cummings who won a record 12 Melbourne Cups.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)