Melbourne Cup punters favour Americain
Australia's trainers will be hard-pressed to stop the A$6.2 million (NZ$7.7m) Melbourne Cup, the world's richest 3200-metre trophy, being ridden off to foreign lands for a third consecutive year today.
Foreign-prepared horses in the field of 24 have dominated betting, with 2010 winner Americain, trained by Frenchman Alain de Royer-Dupre, rated a $6 favourite on the eve of the "race that stops the nation".
Last year's winner, Dunaden ($7), another French horse, vies for second favourite status with British stayer Mount Athos ($7), relegating Maluckyday, the best of the field's locally trained hopes, to $14.
Once an impenetrable fortress for entrants outside Australia and New Zealand, Flemington Racecourse has become a happy hunting ground for the tourists, who have snatched the cup four times over the past decade.
Their recent domination has been lamented by some local racing identities who claim the "raiders" are afforded an easier passage to entry.
"We're just losing the plot," Maluckyday owner and former Melbourne Cup winner Nick Moraitis said.
"It's not a Melbourne Cup any more. It's a European Cup, or something like that."
Once a provincial race of middling quality, the cup's soaring prizemoney has prompted the world's top stables to spend small fortunes to fly more of their horses to Australia.
Local racing enthusiasts had better get used to it said Luca Cumani, the trainer of Mount Athos.
"I think it is a [worldwide race] and if you want to take racing to the next stage then you've got to make it international," said Newmarket-based Cumani, who will also line up My Quest for Peace today.
Punters splurged more than A$100m on the race last year.
Much of this year's money rushed towards Dunaden after the 7-year-old stallion won the 2400m Caulfield Cup in the leadup.
The victory saw the Mikel Delzangles-trained Dunaden saddled with a top weight of 59kg, 4.5kg more than he carried to a photo-finish victory over Britain's Red Cadeaux last year.
The weight of history is also against Dunaden, with only five horses winning the race more than once since it was first held in 1861.
It would be a fairytale finish for local jockey Craig Williams, who was to take Dunaden's reins last year but lost his ride to Frenchman Christophe Lemaire after being suspended by racing authorities in the leadup.
However, Williams believes Dunaden "is a four-lengths better horse than last year".
Red Cadeaux also returns after last year's heartbreak.
Trainer Ed Dunlop lamented last year's finish as a "pixel" off his greatest moment in racing but was confident of going one better this year, with his horse carrying 3.5kg less than Dunaden.