The 2015 Australian Cup nominations have been released and 69 horses are a chance of contesting the Group 1 event at Flemington on March 14.
The standout in the Australian Cup nominations is 2014 Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist, who is a chance of contesting the race in the second start of his autumn campaign if he resumes in the Group 2 Peter Young Stakes (1800m) at Caulfield on February 28.
Protectionist ran away from his rivals to record a most impressive four lengths win in the Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) and he will have the opportunity to join the likes of Fiorente, Makybe Diva and Let’s Elope as horses that won the Australia Cup four months after taking out ‘the race that stops a nation’.
Leading Sydney trainer Gai Waterhouse won the Australian Cup for the first time with Fiorente last year and she could have up to three chances to defend her title in the Group 1 event after including Pornichet, Greatwood and Spurtonic in the nominations.
Pornichet made his Australian racing debut with a fast-finishing fourth in the Group 3 Yellowglen Stakes (1400m) at Flemington on Victoria Derby Day and he stamped himself as a horse to watch in the autumn when he took out the Group 3 Sandown Stakes (1500m) a week later.
Greatwood recorded his maiden race win in Australia when he took out the Listed Premier’s Cup (1800m) at Rosehill Gardens on August 30, but he was sent to the spelling paddock after failing to fire in the Group 3 Kingston Town Stakes (2000m) a fortnight later, while Spurtonic will need to improve on his Carrington Stakes effort to be any chance of running in the Australia Cup.
Another Sydney trainer that could have a big team in Melbourne for the Australia Cup is Chris Waller and he has included the likes of Bagman, Beaten Up, Diametric, Foreteller, Hawkspur, He’s Your Man, Index Linked, Junoob, Preferment, Weary and Who Shot Thebarman in the nominations for the race.
Waller is still chasing his maiden win in the Australia Cup after finishing third with Foreteller in 2014.
One of the most interesting horses in the Australian Cup nominations is Ed Dunlop-trained Red Cadeaux, who remains a chance of returning to Australia for the fifth time in his racing career.
Red Cadeaux has had all four of his race starts in Australia in the Melbourne Cup and he has stamped himself as one of the most popular horses in the world with his tough second place finishes in the race in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
The title for the most popular horse in the Australian Cup nominations could be hotly contested as local heroes Happy Trails and The Cleaner have also been included in the entries for the $1 million race.
Happy Trails has not been seen at the races since he scored a narrow win in the Group 1 Mackinnon Stakes (2000m) at Flemington last year, but he is on track to return to racing in the Group 1 Orr Stakes at Caulfield on February 14 as he builds towards the Australian Cup.
The Cleaner showed that he was capable of being competitive at the highest level of racing when he finished a credible ninth in the Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) before he was a tough third in the Group 1 Emirates Stakes (2000m) and he is set to return to the mainland of Australia for the Australian Cup after he returns to racing in the Listed George Adams Plate (1600m) at Launceston on February 25.
Other exciting horses in the 2015 Australian Cup nominations include Godolphin import Contributer, Australia Stakes winner Mourinho, New Zealand-based star Puccini, Queensland Derby winner Sonntag, Sam Kavanagh-trained Tales Of Grimm and talented three-year-old Sweynesse.