Credit: Dubai Racing Club-Andrew Watkins
Saeed bel Obaida’s Prince of Arran and Godolphin’s defending champion Cross Counter, who both winter in Dubai, carry the Meydan torch in Tuesday’s 24-horse Lexus Melbourne Cup (G1), one of the world’s most exciting sporting events and the southern hemisphere’s most prestigious horse race. Two other horses with Meydan form, Ballydoyle’s iron filly Magic Wand and tough-staying Hunting Horn, who finished fourth and fifth in the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on Dubai World Cup night, will also run in the $5,516,360 (AUD $8 million) affair.
Contested over a gruelling 3200m on a relatively flat, left-handed course, the race is a handicap, where weights are assigned based on merit in order to even the proverbial playing field. Prince of Arran carries 54kg, Cross Counter the top weight of 57.5kg, Magic Wand 53.5kg and Hunting Horn 55kg.
A competitor over the last two Dubai World Cup meetings, as well as a regular during the Dubai World Cup Carnival, Charlie Fellowes-trained Prince of Arran is coming into the race in sparkling form, having won the Group 3 Geelong Cup at Geelong on Oct. 23 and finished a close second in the Group 2 Herbert Power Stakes at Caulfield 11 days prior since arriving in Australia to vie for a spot in the Melbourne Cup. A six-time starter at Meydan over the past two DWC Carnivals, the 6-year-old son of Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Shirocco won February 2018’s Range Rover Sport Handicap (pictured above) and was eighth and ninth in the last two Dubai Gold Cup sponsored by Al Tayer Motors (G2)—the latter behind Cross Counter in March.
Since Dubai, he has upped his form, including an excellent third in the September Stakes (G3) just prior to heading Down Under. Fellowes has seen the horse come on noticeably since the beginning of 2019. Last year, he was third in the Melbourne Cup after a dream run, but had to compete only three days after qualifying for the race when winning the Lexus Stakes (G3). This year, he has some added rest, which could be a considerable attribute.
“I couldn’t be happier with the horse,” Fellowes said on Sunday night. “He galloped a couple of days ago and went really well. He has had the perfect lead-up. The extra few days are a massive plus. It’s never easy for a horse to run three days after a massive Group 3 in front of a huge crowd. Two weeks makes a huge difference.”
After the Melbourne Cup, the lightly raced warrior will likely have a similar schedule to the past two seasons, with the goal again being the same rich Australian prize. In the meantime, Fellowes does hope to bring him back to Dubai again to compete on the big stage.
“After the Melbourne Cup we would like to go to Hong Kong with him,” Fellowes continued. “Then we would like to go to Saudi Arabia, followed by the Dubai World Cup (card). The rest of the year (2020) will be based around heading back to Australia.”
Michael Walker rides Prince of Arran from the favorable draw of barrier eight.
Heavy is the horse that wears the crown for the top-weighted Cross Counter, who carries the hopes of trainer Charlie Appleby after yardmate Ispolini was ruled off by the stewards. DWC Carnival star Ispolini, winner of the Nad Al Sheba Trophy (G2) and second to Cross Counter in the Dubai Gold Cup, had been prepared for the Melbourne Cup all season, but a CT scan by local veterinarians excluded him from competing. Ispolini will likely head to Dubai to compete in the DWC Carnival again, while Cross Counter marches on for the Boys in Blue.
“We went through our veterinary form with Grace Forbes with the pair of them and Cross Counter passed it perfectly clean,” Appleby said. “With Ispolini, there was a question mark there with the CT scan, but subsequently we have seen it and our vets have seen it. He went through a MRI scan and everything was fine, but they felt he was moving not as fluidly as they would have liked to have seen.”
Cross Counter enters his defence attempt after clashing with the top stayers in the world, including Kew Gardens and arguably the world’s best long distance horse, Stradivarius. He kicked off the season in style by winning the aforementioned Dubai Gold Cup (pictured above), then ran a respectable fourth and third in the 4000m Ascot Gold Cup (G1) and 3200m Goodwood Cup (G1) astern Stradivarius. Last out, he was up against it in a glacially paced Irish St Leger at The Curragh behind Search for a Song and Kew Gardens.
“Cross Counter looks great,” Appleby said. “The Curragh didn’t back up and there was no pace. It was a bit of a messy race in the end. Right now, he ticks the boxes and has a course and distance win under his belt, so that always helps.
“The weight is there to stop you, but for me, he takes the best European form in there,” Appleby continued. “The handicapped horses come in with their handicap marks, but when you’ve got weight, you’ve got it for a reason. You’re generally the best horse in the race on form. Taken his obvious Melbourne Cup form plus his European and Dubai form this year, he’s been bang there in order. He’s an exciting horse to have around.”
Cross Counter enters the Melbourne Cup with a record of six wins and three placings from 12 starts for earnings of just more than $4.3 million. William Buick has the mount on the son of champion Teofilo, as he did in the Dubai Gold Cup. They will break from barrier five.
Magic Wand (pictured above) enters the Melbourne Cup with pure Group 1 form, having raced in G1 races in the USA, UAE, UK, Ireland and Australia in 2019. She is winless this season, but has four second-place finishes, including the Irish Champion Stakes (G1) in September. Last out, she was a solid fourth in the Cox Plate (G1) over 2000m, but the daughter of Galileo is stepping up beyond 2400m for the first time. It is worth noting that Ryan Moore chose to ride the filly over multiple others in the race. She will break from barrier 24.
Hunting Horn (pictured below), who breaks form barrier 11 in the Melbourne Cup with Seamie Heffernan, has had a similar path to his female counterpart, racing in six different countries this season. He enters off a smart score in the Group 2 Mooney Valley Gold Cup on Oct. 26 and must be respected on his best form. He races for the first time beyond 2500m. Both he and Magic Wand are 2018 Royal Ascot winners for trainer Aidan O’Brien who have carried their class worldwide.