Jockey Damien Oliver is back from suspension and back aboard last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Almandin who he rates as the horse to beat in this weekend’s Group 2 $300,000 Zipping Classic (2400m).
Oliver missed the ride on the defending champion at Flemington on November 7 when the Lloyd Williams-owned import lined-up in his second Group 1 $6.25 million Emirates Melbourne Cup (3200m).
The mount went to controversial Italian hoop Frankie Dettori who got caught three wide without cover on the Monsun eight-year-old for most of the two mile classic.
Almandin only managed to finish 12th behind goliath owner Williams’ sixth Melbourne Cup champion Rekindling and always faced a tough assignment going up four-and-a-half-kilograms on his winning weight in the race last spring.
Oliver was out for 20 meetings after copping a hefty careless riding charge for his Group 1 $3 million Ladbrokes Cox Plate (2040m) where his mount Happy Clapper made heavy contact with eventual fourth placed three-year-old Royal Symphony.
The Hall of Fame hoop lost a subsequent appeal and was forced to sit out of the ‘Race That Stops A Nation’.
Eager to get back to the business of riding spring winners, Oliver is confident heading into Saturday’s feature race at Ladbrokes Park on the well-supported favourite Almandin who can bounce back off the forgivable Melbourne Cup loss.
“He obviously didn’t have much luck, he was caught a little bit wide on a day it was a significant disadvantage to be wide, so under the circumstances it’s a big forgive run,” Oliver told Racing Victoria speaking of Almandin’s Melbourne Cup run.
“As long as he’s come through that run – which, I’m sure they wouldn’t be running him if he hadn’t – then he should run really well.”
Drawn the rails in barrier one and up against just seven rivals, Almandin is best suited to the weight-for-age scale of the mile-and-a-half showdown and heads the latest Zipping Classic odds at $2.60 through Ladbrokes.com.au.
“He’s probably really well suited at the weight-for-age conditions,” Oliver said.
The gelding, who is only lightly raced for his age having career start number 17 on Saturday, chases his first victory since Oliver rode him to an impressive two-and-three-quarter-length romp home at Flemington in the Listed $120,000 JRA Trophy (2500m) in mid-September.
Almandin backed-up at the track on October 7 and finished a flat fourth as the beaten favourite and reigning champ in the Group 3 $300,000 The Bart Cummings (2500m).
Oliver was in the saddle for both of those earlier Melbourne Cup lead-ups.
The big Zipping Classic dangers according to the markets at Ladbrokes.com.au are Darren Weir’s Melbourne Cup fourth placegetter Big Duke and the also Williams-owned The Taj Mahal who was fourth in the Group 1 Emirates Stakes (2000m) last weekend.