Make or break for the Sheikh
PUNTERS have come for Godolphin, which has its largest representation and strongest hand for this year's edition of the Melbourne Cup after almost two decades of trying to win the great race.
Sydney trainer John O'Shea's Cox Plate runner-up Hartnell heads the royal blue contingent of five, remaining steady in the betting around the $5 mark yesterday, but there has been a flood of money for English trainer Charlie Appleby's Oceanographer and solid support for Geelong Cup winner and Godolphin stablemate Qewy.
Geelong Cup place-getter Oceanographer shortened yesterday to $7 on the strength of his barnstorming Lexus Stakes win on Saturday - usurping Caulfield Cup winner Jameka ($8) as second favourite - and Qewy shortened from $31 to $21.
In contrast, punters seemed sceptical about the prospects of Godolphin stalwart Saeed bin Suroor's Beautiful Romance ($51 out to $67) and Secret Number (steady at $34) without a lead-up run in Australia.
Godolphin has had 20 runners in 14 Melbourne Cups since first targeting the race in 1998, with Suroor training the runner-up three times, but Appleby is on his first trip to Australia for the international racing juggernaut.
Appointed as a Godolphin trainer in 2013 after 15 years working for the organisation as a stablehand and assistant trainer, the former jockey has made a huge impression Down Under - with Scottish finishing second in the Caulfield Cup, Qewy winning at Geelong and Sir Francis Of Assisi taking out the Bendigo Cup.
The Lexus performance of Oceanographer suggests a Melbourne Cup win is in the offing too, with the five-year-old motoring home from well back in the field to swamp bold frontrunner Tom Melbourne.
"The team down here have done a great job freshening the horse up since Geelong. I saw him on the track this morning jumping and kicking, so we knew he was in good form,” Appleby said after Saturday's win.
As pleased as he was with the victory, Appleby could not fathom the disparity in the odds between his two Cup runners.
"I'm very surprised because I thought Qewy did as good a performance at Geelong and he's had a nice break and looked great this morning ... he's very well priced,” he said.
"Whatever they do from here is a bonus and they go into the race in real good order so I'm hopeful we'll be in there with a shout.
"It's great for our team to have the two runners and fantastic for His Highness (Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum) to have the five ... it's really exciting for all of us.”
While Hartnell, Oceanographer and Qewy all fared well at the barrier draw - gates 12, 11 and 15 respectively - British trainer Michael Bell was smiling ear to ear after dual Goodwood Cup winner Big Orange secured the seven alley.
Big Orange finished a close-up fifth in last year's Cup starting from barrier 23.
"We're absolutely delighted,” Bell said. "He ran a great race last year and he was really only a boy and he's developed into a man now, his form's improved and he's got a significantly better draw.”
Australian businessman Lloyd Williams has a four-pronged attack - Almandin, Assign and Gallante from the Robert Hickmott stable, and Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien's Bondi Beach - in the hunt for his fifth Melbourne Cup win.
Bondi Beach, who has drawn beautifully in barrier five and will be ridden by champion English jockey Ryan Moore, has attracted solid support, holding firm on the fourth line of betting around $9.