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Op-Ed: Europeans going the distance so much better

4 min read

Written by Paul Vettise

The curtain has fallen on another Melbourne Cup spring carnival with the European influence again a dominant factor.

The Blue Army of Godolphin came, saw and to a large degree conquered with the Charlie Appleby-trained Jungle Cat (IRE) (Iffraaj {GB}) firing the opening gambit with victory in the G1 Sir Rupert Clarke S., under Englishman James Doyle.

Saeed Bin Suroor’s Benbatl (GB) (Dubawi {IRE}) then came out and won the G1 Caulfield S., for Irish jockey Pat Cosgrave at the expense of Jungle Cat’s stablemate Blair House (IRE) (Pivotal {GB}.

A fortnight later, Benbatl finished runner-up in the G1 Cox Plate behind the indomitable Winx (Street Cry {IRE}).

A winning Solution

Bin Suroor and Cosgrave then continued their globe-trotting heroics by winning the G1 Caulfield Cup with Best Solution (IRE) (Kodiac {GB}) – that trusty trio’s fourth consecutive top-flight success in four different countries.

Yucatan (IRE) (Galileo {IRE}), trained by Aidan O’Brien, steamrolled his G2 Herbert Power S., opposition to claim G1 Melbourne Cup favouritism, but subsequently failing to stay the two miles of the Flemington feature.

The distance was no trouble for A Prince Of Arran (GB) (Shirocco {GER}) who was a solid third after forcing his way in with success in the G3 Lexus S., for his affable English handler Charlie Fellowes.

The Cup was won by Appleby’s Cross Counter (GB) (Teofilo {IRE}) with a commanding performance made all the more remarkable by the 3-year-old having spent days in his box during the lead-up recovering from a cut leg.

Melbourne Cup Winner Cross Counter & connections

Cup conjecture

It was the make-up of the Melbourne Cup field that was again the subject of plenty of talk and argument.

Thirteen of the 24 runners were from Australian stables and, of them, only six were foaled in Australasia. Had it not been for the attrition race of European contenders there would have been even less local representation.

The carnival success of the travelling troupe from Europe will serve to encourage more raiders in the years to come and will further fuel discussions about the perceived ease with which they can qualify for the Cup.

It’s therefore timely to reflect on the changing face of the race, won for the second year in a row by a Northern Hemisphere-trained 3-year-old following the success of the Joseph O’Brien-prepared Rekindling (GB) (High Chaparral {IRE}). We didn’t sight him or Cross Counter before Cup day.

Bart’s glory years

The late, great Bart Cummings set a mileage regime of lead-up racing that earned him 12 victories in the great race, and in his later years he was critical of the number of Europeans in the event.

But the game’s changed, perhaps forever, with Ireland and England producing superior staying horses and their racing programmes have been developed for them to succeed.

With the possible exception of the Hayes and Dabernig-trained Jaameh (another Irish import by the way), there wasn’t another Australasian-prepared horse worthy of inclusion in this year’s Cup line-up.

There has been chat of the G1 The Metropolitan winner gaining entry, and there’s merit in that, and it’s been said the G1 Auckland Cup winner could go straight into the field.

Legendary trainer Bart Cummings

Quality lacking

With the exception this decade of Who Shot Thebarman (NZ) (Yamanin Vital {NZ}) and Shez Sinsational (NZ) (Ekraar {USA}), past results would indicate the winner of the Ellerslie race would be out of their depth at Flemington.

The Melbourne Cup deserves the best 24 stayers, wherever they may come from, and it’s become the international race the Victoria Racing Club desired.

Australasia has the genetics to again be competitive in the event, but as has been said by several leading domestic racing identities in these columns in recent weeks, the opportunities to develop our staying talent are far too few.

Race programming needs to be overhauled to allow Cup prospects to progress – more 2-year-old racing over 1600 metres would be a start.

Until programmes and systems are changed, the European dominance of the Melbourne Cup is unlikely to be broken.