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The majority of you will have no idea what the Melbourne cup is; I’ll happily admit I only take a passing interest in horse racing outside of the UK with the exception of the ‘Prix De L’Arc De L’Arc De Triomphe (we tend to refer to it as ‘The Arc’ over here in Australia). So why the focus on the Melbourne Cup? Well the headline isn’t an exaggeration: those who work in metropolitan Melbourne get the day off work, as do others around the state of Victoria, all because of one horse race. With a prize fund of over $6 million (around £3.7 million), it is the richest two mile handicap race in the world. Celebrities and sporting icons from all over are expected to turn out for what is the biggest horse racing event on the southern hemisphere- so what is all the fuss about?
In France, ‘The Arc’ is referred to as ‘Ce n’est pas un course, c’est un monument’ (‘Not so much a race, as a monument’), and the same could be said of the Melbourne Cup; it’s as much a part of Australian culture as Shane Warne or the Sydney Opera House. The race dates back to 1861 and is held at the Flemington racecourse in Melbourne, Victoria; meaning that the race was past its teens and into its twenties before the first Ashes test match was even played.
In contrast to National Hunt racing- think jumps, Grand National – the Melbourne Cup is a flat, two mile race; a considerable distance considering the soaring summer heat in Australia. The Cup attracts the best ‘stayers’ from Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the world. While Australian-trained horses tend to dominate the field and usually win, the French trained stallion Dunaden secured the closest Melbourne Cup ever, back in 2011 –proving oversees trained horses do have a chance too.
So who are this year’s contenders? I’ve picked out some of the leading horses and an outsider.
Dunaden: The 2011 French powerhouse is bidding to become a dual-winner of the cup and despite only managing 14th last year, the French stallion rode a strong second behind Novellist recently, and with Irish jockey Jamie Spencer on board, the Australian public could be in store for a shock again. Odds: 25/1
Verema: Aga Khan is one of the world’s leading trainers and this debut in the cup for the Khan operation could well spring a surprise. The horse has been rested well this season in preparation for this one race, and after winning the Prix Kergolay in August, the hose is in good form. Odds: 10/1
Mount Athos: While being drawn in gate 22 was a disadvantage for last year’s fifth place runner, Mount Athos could well turn some heads this year. Luca Carmani is a well respected trainer in the UK, and with the booking of Craig Williams as jockey, the Carmani team hope Athos can go four places better this year. Odds: 8/1
Fiorente: The current favourite for the cup, Fiorente came 2nd last year and hasn’t’ ran a bad race since. There’s not much that can be said about the Gai Waterhouse horse: he’s ran consistently well over the past twelve months. With form including coming from last place in the Dato Tan Chin Nam, and also running a very hard 3rd in the Cox Plate, Fiorente will start as worthy favourite. Odds: 6/1.
Brown Panther: I’ve included Brown Panther just because every UK newspaper will be covering this horse. The horse itself is no sensation but his owner is someone every UK sportsman will know: our very own Michael Owen. Although the horse is going to be well backed because of the Owen connection, don’t rule him out. Panther ran a good race when winning the Good Wood Cup (Group II) two starts back, and expect him to lead from the front. Odds: 16/1