Melbourne Cup now a truly global spectacle
When a Korean television crew turns up to a press conference at Werribee to film a Qatari sheikh talking about his French-trained horse that is managed by an Englishman and ridden by an Australian, it's fair to assume the Melbourne Cup has become a global race.
That horse, Dunaden, is the name that is on the lips of every racing enthusiast in town for today's A$6.2 million Melbourne Cup at Flemington.
Whether it's his detractors saying the extra burden of 59kg he has to carry to set a weight-carrying record is too much or it's his owner, Qatari royalty Sheikh Fahad bin Abdullah Al-Thani, claiming the stayer was only 80 per cent fit when he so brilliantly won last month's A$2.5 million Caulfield Cup, Dunaden is the talking point of this year's Cup.
So can he do it again?
Prepared by master French trainer Mikel Delzangles, Dunaden held out Red Cadeaux by a nose to claim an enthralling win in last year's Cup.
That day he carried 54.5kg. This year he has 4.5kg more. No international runner has ever carried as much to victory.
That might not sound a lot but when an extra kilogram in weight is usually reckoned to cost a horse between 1 1/2 and two lengths and the weight has to be carried over the gruelling 3200m marathon distance, Dunaden's task will be a challenging one. He will need to be somewhere between 7 1/2 and nine lengths better than he was last year, should his opposition run up to Red Cadeaux's form.
English visitor Red Cadeaux is again a rival and, though he goes up 2kg from 53.5kg last year to 55.5kg today, he meets Dunaden 2.5kg better at the weights from last year.
Last year the four horses tipped out in this column all finished in the first five, with the $222 quinella of Dunaden and Red Cadeaux among them.
A chief reason behind the rationale of having that quartet in was the obvious form out of the key French leadup race, the Prix de Kergorlay.
Of this year's field only Americain contested that race and he finished sixth of seven after connections made the savvy move to send him back to France so he would get the opportunity to prepare for this year's Cup as a foreign horse at the international base of Werribee, where he thrives.
There are two key leadup races to this year's race - from Europe, the Gr II Hardwicke Stakes over 2400m at Royal Ascot, albeit back as far as June, and the Gr I Caulfield Cup over 2400m last month.
The Caulfield Cup proved last year proved only a fair guide, though Lucas Cranach did finish fifth in that race and went on to place third at Flemington.
However, with the first two favourites - Americain and Dunaden - having run in at Caulfield this year, the form out of that race becomes all the more significant.
Dunaden was brilliant in winning, having come from back and wide on the turn before sweeping past his rivals to score comfortably.
While runner-up Alcopop is missing from today's race, third-placed Lights Of Heaven rates highly after she was finding the line nicely in that race ahead of the fast-finishing Americain in fourth, the gallant My Quest For Peace in fifth, Zabeelionaire in sixth, Winchester in ninth, Sanagas 10th, Niwot 12th, Jakkalberry 13th, Glencadam Gold 15th and Voila Ici 18th.
The run of My Quest For Peace was outstanding. He raced on a hot pace and stuck gamely while his fellow frontrunners got the stitch and faded back through the field.
Zabeelionaire found the line well but had a cosy run and still looks tested in this field, while Winchester was making good ground and Jakkalberry could be forgiven after being trapped wide in his first run for two months.
Dunaden goes up 1kg through his penalty for winning, but if there's as much improvement in him as his connections suggest, then it's going to take massive improvement from one of his rivals to turn the tables.
The Hardwicke Stakes - and yes it's a long time ago, but that's how they train Melbourne Cup raiders these days - saw Dunaden finish closest to the winner Sea Moon, leading home Red Cadeaux in third, Jakkalberry in fifth, Fiorente in sixth and My Quest For Peace, who dropped out in finishing 10th.
Red Cadeaux meets Dunaden 3.5kg better from that meeting, having finished less then a length behind.
Fiorente, the mount of crack Cambridge jockey James McDonald, is an interesting proposition because he went on to defeat third-placed Red Cadeaux in their next start in the Gr II Goldsmiths Stakes (2400m) at Newmarket, with subsequent Gr I Canadian International winner Joshua Tree splitting the pair.
My Quest For Peace's performance at Ascot was an aberration and has to be ignored because his subsequent form, most notably his Caulfield Cup fifth, has been top-class.
As always it's difficult getting a true line on some of the international form.
The early favourite Mount Athos looks progressive and nicely weighted, Galileo's Choice has carried at least 61.5kg in his past five runs, including three hurdles, and he drops to 53.5kg for twice Cup-winning trainer Dermot Weld, while Cavalryman carries the hopes and dreams of global thoroughbred powerhouse Godolphin and has the services of Frankie Dettori in his last ride as its retained rider.
Of the Australians, Lights Of Heaven and Australian Derby winner Ethiopia, who was a last-start fourth in the Cox Plate, look the main hopes, though Green Moon, Zabeelionaire and Kelinni cannot be completely ruled out.
Unfortunately again there is no New Zealand-trained runner and the Kiwis will need to rely on reflected glory through the four New Zealand-bred Zabeel progeny in the race or through part-owners Gerard Peterson (Kelinni) or Sir Patrick Hogan (Precedence).
New Zealand has not had a Melbourne Cup winner since 2001, when Ethereal won for trainer Sheila Laxon and owners Peter and Philip Vela, and only Xcellent has filled a place since, in 2005.
By contrast, in the last decade the international raiders have racked up four wins, six seconds and four thirds. In the past couple of years, their participation level has skyrocketed to the point where this year eight of the starters are European-trained, while a remarkable 18 of the 24 runners were bred outside Australasia.
Another interesting statistic is the record of French pair Dunaden and Americain in Melbourne.
Between them they have had 10 starts in Victoria for seven wins, including two Melbourne Cups, a Caulfield Cup, two Geelong Cups, a Sandown Classic and a Moonee Valley Cup. The other three runs were Americain's fourth in last year's Melbourne Cup, his third in the Australian Cup and his fourth in the Caulfield Cup.
There's only one response to that - sacre bleu.
Aidan Rodley picks: 1 Dunaden, 2 Americain, 3 My Quest For Peace, 4 Red Cadeaux. Best roughie: Lights Of Heaven.