British stayer Deauville Legend is a heavy favorite going into Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup in Australia’s ‘Race to Stop a Nation’, but rain and even hail could put a damper on progress.
The penal 3,200 meters (two miles) handicap, which has been held on the first Tuesday of November since 1876, was limited to 10,000 fans last year because of Covid-19, but 100,000 are expected in Flemington on Tuesday for a traditional boozy day out.
You could face a wet period as the Bureau of Meteorology predicts a 90 percent chance of showers, even thunderstorms and hail, making for a soft and potentially heavy stretch.
Considered the ultimate test of stamina and endurance, the Melbourne Cup has A$8 million (US$6 million) at stake, with the winner of the 23-man field paying A$4.4 million.
Deauville Legend is the favorite to cross the line first, solidifying bets after second-favourite loft was retired on Friday with a tendon injury after failing a pre-race examination.
Caulfield Cup winner Durston also retired after failing a pre-race scan, leaving champion jockey Damien Oliver without a ride.
Deauville Legend has the added bonus of having three-time cup winner Kerrin McEvoy (Brew 2000, Almandin 2016 and Cross Counter 2018) in the four-year-old gelding’s saddle.
He pulled perfectly into barrier nine as McEvoy looks to equal Bobbie Lewis and Harry White’s record of four Melbourne Cup wins and give Hong Kong-based owner Bon Ho a first win.
“I’m really happy because I didn’t want him to go far or too deep and get stuck inside,” said trainer James Ferguson, whose horse won the Great Voltigeur Stakes in York by three lengths in August.
“It’s exactly what we needed so we could get a good position behind the leaders and have a good run.
“But it’s an extremely competitive race.”
– “We are full of hope” –
Weather could be a factor meaning horses with both soft and heavy ground form including Gold Trip, Stockman, Montefilia and Arapaho enter the equation.
Ferguson identified English Derby runners-up Hoo Ya Mal as a threat along with French stallion Gold Trip.
“They have a lot of really good horses here,” he said. “Of course we’re hopeful, but at the end of the day it’s a horse race and everything has to be right.”
Five-year-old Australian mare Montefilia is currently the second favorite alongside Realm Of Flowers and Without A Fight.
Four-time Group 1 winner Montefilia makes a first attempt at 3,200m but the women don’t have a great cup hit record – 38 have run since 2005 and last year’s winner Verry Elleegant was the only one to finish came the first three.
“She should be able to do two miles easily,” said trainer David Payne.
Like last year, when strict new veterinary controls and the pandemic kept many international predators away, it’s again a field dominated by Australian-trained horses.
Whoever wins becomes an instant household name in Australia. The race is a cultural institution, with the day being considered so important that it is declared a public holiday in the host state of Victoria.