Irish dominate European contenders for Melbourne Cup

Melbourne (AFP) –


Six Irish-trained hopefuls are among a record-equalling 11 European horses in the field for Australia's Melbourne Cup at Flemington on Tuesday.

Three runners from Britain, and one each from France and Germany, join the Irish contingent seeking to become the sixth international winner of the iconic 3,200-metre (two-mile) handicap race.

Much has changed in "the race that stops a nation" since Irishman Dermot Weld's Vintage Crop charged down the long home straight to became the first overseas winner in 1993.

The 157th running of the race reflects that with almost half the 23-strong field coming from overseas, chasing the Aus$6.0 million (US$4.6 million) prizemoney on offer.

Since Vintage Crop, foreign raiders Media Puzzle (2003), Delta Blues (2006), Americain (2010) and Dunaden (2011) have won the race.

Ireland's champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins, who first tried to win in 2003, has three runners in Thomas Hobson, Wicklow Brave and Max Dynamite, who finished second in 2015.

Aidan O'Brien, who set a world record this year with 27 Group 1 wins, saddles Johannes Vermeer as he chases his first Melbourne Cup after coming closest with Mahler who ran third in 2007.

Johannes Vermeer is one of six horses to carry the colours of five-time Cup winning Australian owner Lloyd Williams, who had last year's winner Almandin.

A favourite again this year, Almandin will be ridden by Italian veteran Frankie Dettori, who gets another chance to end his Melbourne Cup disappointment.

Dettori, 47 next month, has won the Arc, 17 English classics and a Champion Stakes among other significant races, but in 15 Cup rides over almost 25 years the closest he has come is second with Central Park in 1999 and Max Dynamite in 2015.

"I'm running out of years. I've got to make every chance count," Dettori said.

- 'The right race' -

O'Brien's son Joseph has two chances of trumping his father on Tuesday with US Army Ranger and Rekindling.

Marmelo, trained by Hughie Morrison, is bidding to become the first English horse to win.

Hugh Bowman, the regular jockey of wonder mare Winx, the darling of the Australian turf with 22 consecutive wins, will ride Marmelo.

"He warrants being here," Morrison said. "He can quicken around a bend but the longer straight at Flemington will help.

"The (English) owner wanted to go for the Arc (Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe), but this is the right race."

Nakeeta is the first Scottish-trained horse to tackle the race and trainer Iain Jardine is confident the Ebor Handicap (2800m) winner can break through in Australia.

Wall of Fire, trained by Hugo Palmer at Newmarket, is another English contender.

Topweight Hartnell, bred in Britain, trained in Australia and running for Dubai, carries the hopes of the Godolphin global stable of ending their Melbourne Cup drought.

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed's racing empire has now gone almost 20 years without tasting victory at Flemington despite three second places.

"Hartnell has run well in shorter races this preparation, but over the past month he has been looking more and more like a two-miler," trainer James Cummings said.

"We're very happy with the decision to run in the Cup and we're looking forward to him running well for Sheikh Mohammed and the entire team."

German-based Andreas Wohler, who had his greatest day in racing when Protectionist won in 2014, is back again to see if Red Cardinal can repeat the feat.

French interest will be on Alain Couetil's Tiberian with French jockey Olivier Peslier having his first ride in Australia.