Godolphin’s defence of the G1 Melbourne Cup crown it carried off last year for the first time is on track and in strong order as Cross Counter tapers his preparation for Tuesday’s $8 million race.
Cross Counter rewarded 30 years of near misses and perseverance by Godolphin, taking out Australia’s greatest race with a last-to-first performance that carried him to a stunning victory.
If there is one thing that is close enough to certain about the same horse’s latest bid it is that he won’t be giving a start to all his 23 rivals when the race starts on Tuesday morning.
“I don’t think he has to be dropped all the way out like he was last year when there wasn’t much option but to go back from his wide gate,” said Chris Connett, the assistant to trainer Charlie Appleby.
Connett drew barrier five for Cross Counter who has risen six kilos in the Cup handicap since last year, which is another factor to be taken into account by rider William Buick.
“This year William has a few more options to be a bit more handy,” he said.
“It would probably be harder to carry that extra weight and do what he did, but William will make his mind up when they jump.”
The English-bred and trained four-year-old won’t be without northern hemisphere company on Tuesday.
Twenty of the 24 Cup runners were bred in either Britain, Ireland, Japan, France or the United States with another two having begun their lives in New Zealand, leaving only two locals to race for their country’s most coveted trophy.
One of those, Vow And Declare who finished second to Mer De Glace in the G1 Caulfield Cup is regarded as a live chance, although from barrier 21 he will need luck.
With the Caulfield Cup regarded as one of the most reliable guides to the Melbourne Cup, the Japanese runner Mer De Glace again has strong prospects, as do the English trained Raymond Tusk (Richard Hannon) and last year’s Cup third, Prince Of Arran (Charlie Fellowes).
The strong Irish hand is made up entirely of horses trained by Aidan O’Brien and his son Joseph who saddle seven runners with the latter’s Il Paradiso given a strong chance of providing his trainer with a second Melbourne Cup.
Connett, however, is satisfied Cross Counter has come through the travel to Australia and his preparation here in excellent order.
“He’s awesome, he’s travelled down beautifully. He’s really bright, really keen, I can’t wait for Tuesday,” he said.
“His work’s been really solid and the horses he’s been working with are nice horses, we couldn’t be happier with the way he’s progressed.
“There’s slightly more pressure on him being the defending champ. But in another way there’s less pressure because he’s not had a week standing in the box like he did last year after he had a little mishap.”
“All the signs are there that he’s just about primed for the day.”
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