Leading jockey Craig Williams says he will hold Dunaden in higher regard than three-time Melbourne Cup champion mare Makybe Diva if the French raider can carry his hefty weight to back-to-back Melbourne Cups at Flemington today.
Williams is ''very confident'' last year's winner Dunaden can take him to his first Melbourne Cup victory and defy history in the process by becoming the first overseas-trained stayer to win the race carrying more than 56 kilograms.
If the seven-year-old can defend his crown at Flemington, Williams said the horse would have to be ranked alongside - and in his eyes ''above'' - the revered Makybe Diva, who won Australia's biggest race three straight years from 2003 to 2005.
To win, Dunaden will need to outlast his challengers carrying a top weight of 59 kilograms, one kilogram more than Makybe Diva ever hauled in a Melbourne Cup - her highest being the 58 kilograms she carried to complete her hat-trick in 2005.
''In my eyes, it would put him above Makybe ... in my eyes,'' Williams said of a potential Dunaden triumph. ''He's special to me. He [would be] my first Melbourne Cup [winner] and he's special. You can't take anything away from Makybe Diva, she was a champion, she won it three times. If this horse can do it two times with that weight, he's a champion, without a doubt.''
In addition to the triple Melbourne Cup glory, Makybe Diva also won a Cox Plate,a BMW Stakes and an Australian Cup in a career that included 15 wins from 36 races and earned connections more than A$14 million - making her the highest stakes-earner in Australasian horse racing history.
Dunaden, with Williams on board, won this year's Caulfield Cup and his record stands at 10 victories from 34 starts for more than $7 million in prizemoney. That figure would jump closer to Makybe Diva's lofty benchmark if it claims the winner's share of the A$6m Melbourne Cup pay day.
The man who steered Makybe Diva to those Melbourne Cups, champion jockey Glen Boss, will be aiming for his fourth Melbourne Cup victory when he rides Lexus Stakes winner Kelinni.
As expected, Boss was quick to shoot down any comparison between Dunaden and Makybe Diva. ''Nothing is as special as Makybe,'' he said.
Boss said he not only wanted to join legendary jockeys Bobby Lewis and Harry White as four-time Melbourne Cup winners, but surpass them. ''If I can win tomorrow, and then pull out another win before my time is up, then that will give me the record for the most Melbourne Cups won by a jockey.
That's what I want to be remembered for,'' Boss said.
Meanwhile, as jockeys were jostling to promote their mounts, punters were snapping up the early odds at the Call Of The Card.
The best backed runner was Peter Moody's mare Lights Of Heaven, who was backed to win A$1.2 million with Betstar's Alan Eskander.
Eskander offered A$21 about Lights Of Heaven, which was quickly snapped up by two of Australia's biggest punters in Sean Bartholomew and Kingsley Bartholomew, who forked out A$25,000 and A$15,000 respectively to back the five-year-old Zabeel mare.
Surprisingly, few punters wanted to back the two winners of the race, Dunaden and Americain. A $50,000 wager at A$8 on Dunaden was the only serious interest in the pair.
The corporate bookmakers are not permitted into the Call Of The Card but they too were reporting plenty of action yesterday. It wasn't a local they were coming for, however.
A sustained plunge on Luca Cumani's stayer Mount Athos forced the horse's price to tumble and he now shares the top line of betting at A$7.50 with Dunaden and Americain.
- Sydney Morning Herald