A flight containing 29 top-class-class international horses touched down at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport a couple of weeks ago, heralding the official start of the overseas raid on the 2020 Victorian Spring Racing Carnival.
A total of 13 of the 29 horses onboard, however, have been acquired by Australian owners and trainers and will remain Down Under once the Spring Racing Carnival is completed.
The 29 horses have spent the last fortnight the TAB International Horse Centre in Werribee, Victoria, having previously spent a mandatory two-week quarantine period at facilities in Ireland or the UK.
Last year, internationally-trained horses left Melbourne with two of the Spring Racing Carnival’s major prizes, courtesy of Mer De Glace in the Caulfield Cup (1m 4f/2400m) and Lys Gracieux in the Ladbrokes Cox Plate (2040m).
This Saturday sees the first of the major Victorian Spring Racing Carnival events, with the AUD$5 Stella Artois Caulfield Cup taking place over 1m 4 f (2400m) on the turf at Caulfield Racecourse in Victoria.
A runner from each of the stables of top Irish flat trainers, Aidan and Joseph O’Brien, as well as one horse from the yard of Ireland’s perennial champion National Hunt (Jumps) trainer, Willie Mullins, are among the field for this weekend’s showpiece.
Aidan O’Brien will be hoping to achieve his first victory in the Caulfield Cup with Anthony Van Dyck, arguably the most high-profile horse the Ballydoyle handler has sent to Australia. Anthony Van Dyck, a four-year-old son of the champion Coolmore sire Galileo, won the 2019 Investec Derby at Epsom, England.
For some time he has been favourite for the Caulfield Cup, but an unfavourable draw of gate 21 has seen the top weight drift in the betting market. He will be ridden by Australian jockey Hugh Bowman as he becomes the first winner of the Epsom Derby to contest a Caulfield Cup.
Joseph O’Brien, the 2019 Lexus Melbourne Cup-winning trainer with Rekindling, will be represented in Saturday Group 1 race by Buckhurst, owned by Australian Lloyd Williams. The five-year-old, who won the Group 3 Alleged Stakes at The Curragh, Ireland, last June, will have the assistance of Ben Melham in the saddle.
The Willie Mullins-trained mare True Self is making a return to Australia, having run twice in the country last year, and achieving a Group 2 success in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne. Australia-based Irish rider Declan Bates will take the mount on the eight-year-old.
The international challenge is strengthened by a number of British-trained horses returning to the Spring Racing Carnival. Regular visitor from the UK, Prince Of Arran, trained by Charlie Fellowes, has an excellent record of two wins and four places from six starts in Australia. He was third behind the now-retired mare Enable at Kempton, England, on his most recent start last month.
Dashing Willoughby won last year’s Group 2 Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot, England, and was recently purchased by New Zealand owner Sir Owen Glenn. New Zealand rider Michael Walker has been charged with the task of riding the Ian Balding-trained four-year-old. He was fourth in the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup at York, England, in August, and is a horse to respect.
Australian-based trainers hold a strong hand in this year’s Group 1 Caulfield Cup, with Now And Declare heading the home effort. The five-year-old gelding was runner-up in this race last year, before going on to win the Group 1 Melbourne Cup, Australia’s most famous race, at Flemington.
The top-class mare Verry Ellegant has already won the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes on her most recent start just over a fortnight ago. With an ability to act on all ground conditions, the Chris Waller-handled five-year-old mare is expected to be close at the finish.
Many of the horses that finished behind Verry Ellegant in Flemington’s Turnbull Stakes will re-oppose this weekend. Last year’s Australian Oaks winner Toffee Tongue was runner-up in the October 3 race, Finch, was third, Dalasan fourth, Master Of Wine fifth, the Group 1 Victoria Derby winner Warning finished sixth, while the Listed Mornington Cup victor Aktau was last of 15 in the contest.
Mirage Dancer, third in the 2019 Caulfield Cup, hopes to go two places better this year. He won the Group 1 Metropolitan at Royal Randwick in Sydney on 3 October. Mustajeer was ninth that day and also takes his place in Saturday’s Group 1 race.
Avilius, second in the recent Group 2 Hill Stakes, Chapada, a strong finisher in the Group 2 Herbert Power Stakes at this course and distance, and The Chosen One, who was 7th in the same race, make up the remainder of the field.
While the international challenge looks strong, Australia’s runners may have the edge in this, the first major cup of the season. With this Saturday’s run under their belts, European-trained horses may be more dangerous in the upcoming Cox Plate, Manikato Stakes and Melbourne Cup respectively.
This weekend is the beginning of a fantastic couple of weeks for racing in Australia with numerous legendary Group 1 races up for grabs during the Victorian Spring Racing Carnival.