Leading Group 1 winning trainer Chris Waller is tipping Hartnell as the horse to beat in the Group 1 $6m Emirates Melbourne Cup (3200m) at Flemington on Tuesday.
While Waller will saddle up proven two milers Who Shot Thebarman and Grand Marshal, he said that Australian trained Hartnell has had a solid lead up to the Melbourne Cup and will have a local advantage over the overseas trained stayers.
“I’m hell bent on the Australian horses, I can’t go past Hartnell because he beat Jameka in the Turnbull,” Waller told racing.com.
“I realise he has had a couple of runs at two miles and not performed at his best but I feel he is a different horse this preparation and it would just frank the Winx form and obviously Jameka herself. Whatever stays the two miles out of those two will be hard to beat as their form is impeccable.”
“I’ve got full respect for the European horses, they are running in races like the Melbourne Cup week in week out over these distances. That gives them a bit of advantage but it is a big step to bring them this far and expect them to perform at their best.”
Update: Leading form analyst and former bookmaker Dominic Beirne agrees with Waller and he is confident that Hartnell is the horse to beat in the 2016 Melbourne Cup.
“For me it is all about Hartnell,” Beirne said.
“If you are a weights and measures man, it is a very rare experience to have a horse so well handicapped in the race.
“Since the weights have come out, he has lifted his rating to a point that if the race was re-handicapped today Hartnell would be three and a half kilos worse off compared to all of the other horses.
“That is a massive advantage for a horse to have and it is a long time since a horse has had such a fantastic record in the interim from the weights being released two months ago to the day – it has been since Saintly who bolted away with the cup since we have had a horse with a similar profile.”
Trainer John O’Shea has tested Hartnell over the 3200m on two occasions for a fourth to Grand Marshal in the 2015 Group 1 $1.6m Schweppes 150th Sydney Cup (3200m) at Randwick and he was always well back in the field when fifteenth to Prince Of Penzance in last year’s Melbourne Cup.
Hartnell’s 2016 Melbourne Cup lead up form has been first class and after running second to Waller’s super mare Winx first up in the Group 2 $250,000 Warwick Stakes (1400m) at Randwick on August 20, went to record a hat trick of Spring Carnival wins by a total of seventeen lengths.
James McDonald had an armchair ride in winning the Group 2 $250,000 Tattersalls Club Chelmsford Stakes (1600m) at Randwick on September 3 by seven and three quarter lengths followed by a similar performance in winning the Group 2 $200,000 Ascend Sales Trophies Hill Stakes (2000m) at Randwick on September 17.
O’Shea then took Hartnell to Melbourne where he continued on his winning way with a three and a quarter lengths win over Jameka in the Group 1 $500,000 Yellowglen Turnbull Stakes (2000m) at Flemington on October 2 before getting trounced by Winx by eight lengths when second in the Group 1 $3m Cox Plate (2040m) at Moonee Valley on October 22.
Hartnell sits at the top of the Melbourne Cup market order at $5.50 with Ladbrokes.com.au ahead of Caulfield Cup winner Jameka at $8 and Lexus Stakes winner Oceanographer at $8.50.
Waller’s two Melbourne Cup contenders Grand Marshal and Who Shot Thebarman are both marked at $41 and are heading to Flemington after running the quinella in the Group 2 $300,000 Antler Luggage Moonee Valley Gold Cup (2500m) at Moonee Valley on October 22.