In a global sense, the famous two-mile handicap, run on the first Tuesday every November, has really taken off. European stayers now flock to the race, owners from every corner of the globe get involved, and the race remains a fascination to virtually everybody inhabiting the huge continent sandwiched between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Godolphin have never been more widely represented. John O’Shea saddles the well-fancied Hartnell, fresh from his fighting second to Winx in the G1 Cox Plate, Saeed bin Suroor sends out Secret Number and Beautiful Romance, while Charlie Appleby, who has been mopping up the country cups, has Oceanographer and Qewy.
Local form analysts face a conundrum in Oceanographer. Can he endure his third race in 13 days? It is very unusual for a European stayer to cram in so many races in such a short period.
Oceanographer, meanwhile, appears to be thriving. Appleby reported: “He lost 5kg in body weight during his Lexus win, but (Monday morning) he has put 3kg back on. He looks well and he has eaten well. He has not left an oat since the race.”
Oceanographer turned in one of the best trials seen to win his way into the Cup field. His sectional times in Saturday’s Lexus were exceptional. He is a powerful stayer, just hitting his peak after 11 career starts. With a light weight of 52kg, he can win Godolphin its first Melbourne Cup.
Appleby also has a very healthy regard for Qewy, his Geelong Cup winner. “He is an old favourite in the yard, and is a very good horse on his day. He seems in great form, which he showed at Geelong,” he said.
Qewy, a gelding, is impeccably bred. He is by Street Cry from a half-sister to super stallion Dubawi. He is expected to take up a prominent position early in the race, though it is not imperative that he makes the running.
The Michael Bell-trained Big Orange, fifth in the Cup last year, seems a better and stronger horse this year. He has enjoyed a very good preparation and will be up near the front all the way.
Saeed bin Suroor astutely observed: “There will be pace on all the way this year. If the Europeans are prominent early, they will not take a ‘pull’ and slow the field down. They will keep galloping on.”
Ballydoyle runner Bondi Beach, the mount of Ryan Moore, is expected to run a big race. He will be more mature this year, which will stand him in good stead.
O’Shea believes Hartnell also to be in better form this year. His G1 Turnbull Stakes run was a beauty and very hard to forget. If he reproduces that effort, he can clinch it.
Spanish riders, Jaume Punti Dachs and Alex Moral Luque landed a 1-2 at the 2016 renewal of the Longines FEI World Endurance Championship held at the Samorin Equestrian Centre in Slovakia on Saturday.
Hopes had been high for a UAE victory for the 2014 defending champion, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, who had been the long-term leader of the 160km ride.
But it was not to be as his horse, Ramaah, was vetted out at the fourth vet check having displayed an uneven gait during the trot up.
The UAE’s Saif Al Mazroui then took up the running in the final loop but was to be denied when his mount, Napoli Del Ma did not pass the final vet check, leaving the way clear for the Spanish riders.
Winner Dachs, who partnered the grey gelding Twyst Maison Blanche, is a familiar figure in UAE endurance riding having been a long-term competitor and trainer in the emirates.
Dachs crossed the line in 6:46:42, 50 seconds ahead of Luque on Calandria PH.
Bahrain’s HH Sheikh Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa and his horse, Waterlea Dawn Treader, who stopped the clock at 6:49:47, were third in the prestigious race.
More than 130 horse and rider combinations, representing a record 42 countries, entered the competition.
The ride was contested in five loops, running alongside the River Danube and covering distances of 40km, 35km, 35km, 30km and 20km.
The reigning FEI World Equestrian Games endurance champion, who wrestled the title in 2014 from his father, HH Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, is one of five accomplished riders to represent the UAE at the Samorin Equestrian Centre in Samorin.
Sheikh Rashid Dalmook Al Maktoum, Sheikh Hamad Dalmook Al Maktoum, Saif Al Mazroui and Abdullah Ghanim Al Marri, all seasoned international endurance riders, will ride alongside Sheikh Hamdan.
The UAE claimed team gold and all three individual medals at the World Championships in 2012 as well as team, individual silver and bronze at the World Equestrian Games in 2010.
A total of 136 horse and rider combinations are expected to head out over the 160km route on Saturday.
Following a 6am mass start the field is scheduled to complete five loops of 40km, 35km, 35km, 30km and 20kms. Horses undergo a vet check following each loop to ensure they are fit to continue competing .
Mohammed Essa Al Adhab, General Manager of Dubai Equestrian Club, a subsidiary of Meydan Group said: “We are fielding a vastly experienced team who are all accustomed to competing together and have experienced success at the highest levels. They are all accomplished horsemen who understand the demands of competing on the international stage.”