Sydney-based jockey James McDonald is booked to partner Michael Bell’s Melbourne Cup-bound European raider Big Orange this week at Newmarket in the UK.
The hulking Duke Of Marmalade gelding runs at his local track in England on Thursday in the Group 2 Princess Of Wales’s Stakes (2414m) defending his title with McDonald having his first ride on the stayer.
A rising six-year-old, Big Orange is after his first win in a year when taking out the 2015 Group 2 Goodwood Cup (3219m) over the two miles on way to a Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival raid.
He backed up from his Goodwood Cup success with a disappointing seventh, defeated 14 lengths by the winner Max Dynamite, before travelling to Victoria for a shot at the ‘race that stops a nation’.
On the first Tuesday of November at the famous Flemington Racecourse Big Orange jumped a $61 roughie in the $6 million Group 1 Emirates Melbourne Cup (3200m).
He was far from disgraced in the world’s richest handicap however crossing under two and a half lengths back for fifth behind the Darren Weir-trained Prince Of Penzance ($101).
The Goodwood Cup form also held-up in the form of William Mullins’ Irish galloper Max Dynamite who crossed second to Prince Of Penzance, the Lonsdale Cup winner defeated just a half-length.
A second shot at the Melbourne Cup on November 1 this spring is pending for Big Orange and connections will use this week’s Group 2 feature on Day 1 of the July Festival as a guide.
McDonald comes aboard for the horse’s regular rider Jamie Spencer who has opted to stay in the saddle of The Grey Gatsby who comes off a fourth in last month’s Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes (2012m).
“James is a top-class rider with international experience,” Bell told Racing Victoria.
“He has been for a sit on the horse and he was very happy with him.
“Big Orange hasn’t ran since April because of the soft ground and he is bigger and stronger than he was last year.”
Big Orange currently pays $41 in all-in Melbourne Cup betting at Ladbrokes.com.au.
Plenty of internationals are prominent in the pre-nomination markets including early $13 favourite Order Of St George, part-owned by prolific Australian connection Lloyd Williams.
The aforementioned Max Dynamite follows at $17, equal odds with Signoff who is considered the best early hope of keeping the ‘Loving Trophy’ on home soil.
A rising seven-year-old son of Authorized, Signoff is prepared by last year’s Melbourne Cup winning trainer Weir.
He hasn’t raced since March 5 in Adelaide when running away for a comprehensive six and a half-length victory in the Group 3 Lord Reims Stakes (2600m).
Signoff missed last year’s Melbourne Cup, but did contest the 2014 edition won by German galloper Protectionist running a brave fourth as a 51.5kg light weight.
Protectionist is also looking more and more likely to return to Australia for another Melbourne Cup run this season after returning to Group 2 winning form in Germany over the weekend for trainer Andreas Wohler.