Eye-catching runs from a number of European stayers at Royal Ascot over the weekend have seen likely international numbers for Melbourne Cup bound horses this spring soar.
Held on the first Tuesday of November at Victoria’s famous Flemington Racecourse, the $6.2 million Group 1 Emirates Melbourne Cup (3200m) has been confirmed as the end of year grand final for many top performers in England’s premier carnival this year.
One of those eyeing Melbourne Cup success is the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Oasis Dream four-year-old Opinion, the easy winner of the Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap (2414m) on the 21st.
Posting their fourth win at career start number 10, Opinion confirmed the high opinion their trainer and Australian connections Highclere Thoroughbred Racing have for them with the two length effort over Stencive in the feature.
Staying on strongly over the final furlong the Ryan Moore-ridded colt was racing for the first time in 48 days and showed they were one to watch fresh even from their double digit barrier.
Connections confirmed they would be making travel plans to arrive in Victoria for the spring with Opinion to be sent down the Melbourne Cup path, the up-and-comer yet to be added to future markets on the ‘race that stops a nation.’
“I first started going to the Cup about 10 years ago and I don’t think I have missed a year since,” Highclere’s managing director Harry Herbert said.
“The race, the atmosphere and the people are all superb and hopefully we can end up out there with Opinion.
“Ryan Moore has given him the most fantastic ride to win here today and we could not be more thrilled with.
“He came on from his first run for the season at Newmarket and has appreciated the trip.
“We need to talk to Sir Michael about plans but the Ebor at York in August would be a possibility and we can then start thinking about travelling plans (to Australia).
Newmarket-based Stoute meanwhile has twice been represented in a Melbourne Cup field by Distinction, another Highclere-owned stayer, who was a credible sixth to the mighty Makybe Diva for her second in 2004 and then a disappointing 19th for her historical third consecutive ‘Loving Trophy’ the following year.
“To be able to take a horse to Melbourne is the dream and we had such a fantastic experience when we took Distinction down there to chase home that fantastic mare that I have been wanting to have a runner down there ever since,” Herbert added.
“They looked after the owners so wonderfully last time and it was a privilege to be involved in the race.
“I think Opinion ticks all of the boxes as to a Melbourne Cup horse and there could be more to come as he steps up in distance.”
Another good performer at Royal Ascot that is also looking down the barrel of a Melbourne Cup run on November 5th is the Marco Botti-trained Dandino.
The Dansili stallion is also owned by Aussie connections having been purchased by Darren Dance’s Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock at the start of the year when transferred to Botti’s care.
Second-up after resuming from a lengthy five month break on May 4, on the weekend Dandino was second best in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes (2414m).
After being overtaken by the winner Thomas Chippendale at the 600m mark Dandino held on well to finish just a length away, a good result marred by the sudden death of the Sir Henry Cecil-trained winner from a suspected heart attack directly after the race.
While they failed to win Botti was more than pleased with his horse’s Hardwicke run and is looking forward to returning to Australia for the spring where the horse will be set for both the $2.5 million Group 1 BMW Caulfield Cup (2400m) on October 19 as well as the Melbourne Cup.
“I think you want a horse who definitely stays a mile and a half with a little bit of speed and they must like fast ground, which seems Dandino’s best ground,” Botti said.
“Those are all the characteristics for a Melbourne Cup horse.”
Botti and connections at ATB were represented in both staying features last year by Jakkalberry who was able to improve on their f13th in the Caulfield Cup to finish a good third behind Green Moon in the world’s richest handicap.
“I did enjoy it (last year’s Melbourne Cup Carnival),” Botti said.
“It was a great experience with lovely people and obviously we had good fun.
“Let’s hope we’ll be back this year with a winner.”
While Emirates Melbourne Cup nominations aren’t taken until early September, ante-post odds on the classic are already open and Dandino is a $21 chance.