The Darwin Cup grows in stature every year and in 2011 it could reach new levels of importance if the national interest is anything to go by.
Two more of the country’s top jockeys will be making the journey to the Northern Territory where the anticipation is rapidly building ahead of next Monday’s Darwin Cup day meeting.
Kerrin McEvoy has been booked for The Ruffian, the ex Lee Freedman trained runner having dominated the local fields since he first arrived in the top end.
He won the Darwin Guineas first off and then managed to claim the Northern Territory Derby, putting him on track for a big triple.
There’s also a $100,000 bonus on the line should he add the Darwin Cup to the tally, something new trainer Sheila Arnold has firmly in her sights.
The Ruffian has been seen on the East Coast throughout 2011 but Arnold looks to have made the right in call sending him north from her Bendigo base.
Her horse is a top fancy for the race and can become just the third three year old in history to complete the treble behind Brinney in 1989 and Ventilago in 1996.
His original owner was in fact Sheikh Mohammed, a long way removed from the setting of new owner Bill Mumford.
Mumford has always had his eye on the Darwin Cup and after The Ruffian won the Albury Guineas he saw him as his best chance yet.
“I’ve been waiting since 1986 to win the Triple Crown,” said Mumford.
“The fact that he drops from 57kg to 53.5kg certainly helps but he has to improve against the older horses.”
It won’t be the first time McEvoy makes the trip to Darwin but to date he’s never managed to win the Cup.
He’s also never partnered The Ruffian so far in his 11 career starts.
Their major challenge on the day looks like being Hawks Bay trained by Neil Dyer.
The Victorian is a consistent feature during the Darwin Cup carnival and he’s in form already after winning the Sky Racing Metric Mile on Saturday.
He’s also a horse which will have the advantage of a big name jockey with Steven Arnold to make the trip.
Hawks Bay is the early favourite despite the fact he’ll have a big weight, he showed he can handle a load with 63kg on his back last start.
“The horse is coming right,” Dyer said.
“He was set to carry 61kg in the Cup, but he’ll probably incur a 1.5kg penalty (after his last start win).”
Arnold, who started his career riding in Alice Springs, makes somewhat of a homecoming for the Darwin Cup.
He takes the ride of Hawks Bay at the expense of Colin Haddon who will shift to the Ken Rogerson-trained Robdon Flyer.
Hawks Bay as run second in the past two Darwin Cup’s and Dyer is trying everything to turn that around.
As well as the favourite he’ll also saddle up Palmyra Boy who crossed the line third in the Metric Mile.