Golden Slipper winning jockey Ben Melham will team up with Almandin for the first time at The Valley on Saturday when the German import kicks off his defence of his 2016 Melbourne Cup win.
Almandin has been allocated the top weight of 61kg and has drawn barrier five in the ten horse field in the $120,000 MSC Signs Handicap (2040m), his pipe opener for his 2017 Spring Carnival which could end with back to back wins in the Group 1 $6m Melbourne Cup (3200m) at Flemington on the first Tuesday in November.
Melham is glad to get the chance to continue his association with prominent owner Lloyd Williams and trainer Robert Hickmott after teaming up with them during the 2017 Sydney Autumn Carnival with a win on Assign in the Group 3 $150,000 The Daily Telegraph Neville Sellwood Stakes (2000m) at Rosehill.
Melham also steered the Hickmott trained The United States into third place behind Our Ivanhoe and Hartnell in the Group 1 $700,000 Ranvet Stakes (2000m) at Rosehill on March 18, three races before he rode the Gary Portelli trained She Will Reign to victory in the Group 1 $3.5m Longines Golden Slipper (1200m).
“It’s a privilege to ride the Cup winner first-up, Almandin,” Melham told racing.com.
“I haven’t seen him at all (at trackwork), but I’m excited to ride him.
“It’s the right time to year to be riding for them. They are a very astute stable who have got a good bunch of quality horses heading to the main staying races.
“This time of year they’re all in preparation for Cups and I’m happy to be riding for them and appreciate the support I’ve been getting so far.”
Almandin will be having his first run back since winning the 2016 Melbourne Cup with Kerrin McEvoy on board and Melham is not sure how the eight year old is going to perform first up.
“It’s a little bit hard for me to say given I haven’t seen the horse this preparation, he’s obviously in a very astute stable, he’s drawn ideally (barrier five of 10) and he’s in very well at the weights,” Melham said.
“I’ll ride him how the stable wants me to ride him and he’s a quality horse who I am sure will run well.”
Bookies at Ladbrokes.com.au have kept Almandin relatively safe at $6.50 for his first up appearance at The Valley and have installed Darren Weir’s in-form galloper Pacodali as the $3.70 favourite.
The Danny O’Brien trained Second Bullet is next in the betting at $4.80 ahead of Almandin’s stablemate Hans Holbein at $5.50, Killarney Kid at $7 and Bling Dynasty at $7.50.