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The Geelong Cup trifecta. The Bendigo Cup. The Lexus. So the overseas domination goes on in the lead-up to the Melbourne Cup.
And the scary thing – at least for the locals – is that Godolphin, in particular, is winning these races with horses that are a long way removed from the upper echelons of stayers in Europe.
It could, in the English vernacular, be said that they are “avin a larf”.
But such is the dearth of quality Australian horses who can run a trip beyond 1600 metres that there are 6.5 million very good reasons for coming Down Under – even with an average type of galloper.
Charlie Appleby, one of Godolphin’s English trainers, and John Ferguson, the organisation’s global chief executive, acknowledge that their Cup candidates – Oceanographer and Qewy, in particular – who have burst onto the scene in recent weeks are hardly out of the ranks of top-drawer distance horses back home.
But both go into Tuesday’s Cup with chances better than most rivals for one very good reason: they are tough and hardened gallopers who are guaranteed to stay every centimetre of the 3200-metre trip.
“No, it’s not wrong to say that,” says Appleby of his candidates.
“We brought a few horses out here this year to try to get a feel for what sort of horse is needed and how to approach it for the future. It’s been a fantastic run for us and we have had great results, so here’s hoping that luck continues until Tuesday,” the Newmarket-based handler says.
“The way they all ran off the plane, they all ran so well. I wasn’t sure how they would back up to be honest with you. Whatever we get from now on in would be a bonus as they have done such a great job already.”
Ferguson suggests that the change of environment, some warmer weather and a different routine have worked very well for these older horses (the two Cups contenders and Bendigo Cup winner Francis Of Assisi, another ex hurdler) who sometimes become a bit jaded and world-weary in their familiar surroundings at home. “
Still, eyebrows would be raised if Qewy, for example, gave Craig Williams his first Cup winner and completed the set of Australia’s Big Four races (Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate, Golden Slipper and Melbourne Cup) for Victoria’s champion jockey.
The son of Street Cry was, until relatively recently, running over hurdles and fences in the UK when he was trained by Ferguson.
Ferguson took on the job as Godolphin’s CEO only this year having spent several seasons training (very successfully) National Hunt horses who competed under the Bloomfields Racing banner.
When Ferguson – who has also been Sheikh Mohammed’s bloodstock adviser for three decades – quit training for his administrative position several of the jumpers, including Qewy, were recast as flat racers, with Appleby the beneficiary.
But the likelihood of a horse like him being a fancied runner in an event such as the Ascot Gold Cup or the Long Distance Cup at Ascot’s Champions Day would not be great. Yet here he is, going for one of the biggest prizes in the sport.
It’s a similar story with Geelong Cup third placegetter and Lexus winner Oceanographer.
A son of wonderful galloper Sea The Stars (who won an English 2000 Guineas, Derby, Irish Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe) Oceanographer would have been regarded as no more than a handy staying handicapper in the UK, where two of his three wins came on synthetic tracks in off-season contests.
His first try at listed level, in the Wolfreton Handicap at Royal Ascot, saw him perform terribly and trail in a long last behind Sir Isaac Newton (who was unplaced in the Caulfield Cup), while his only other attempt in quality company was in the Ebor Handicap, where he finished nine lengths behind Cup rival Heartbreak City
Granted he meets that rival with a five-kilo weight turnaround in the Cup, but unless he has improved out of sight during his time in Australia he will probably need it.
Still, as Ferguson says, the weather, a change of scenery and the different racing conditions might have sparked his interest.
Appleby won’t be complaining. His victories in England this season had netted him just under $3 million for the campaign. With just a handful of runners in Australia he has netted close to $1 million already – with Oceanographer’s Lexus win worth $180,000 alone. Qewy’s Geelong Cup win, Oceanographer’s Geelong Cup place, Francis Of Assisi’s Bendigo Cup win and Scottish’s second in the Caulfield Cup have ensued this has been a profitable trip.
The trainer must be scratching his head and thinking if he can achieve this with second graders, what might he earn if he brings higher-class contenders who will be suited to Australian conditions next year?
Oceanographer is now into second favourite for the Cup, and Appleby is hoping he will take no harm fronting up again so quickly.
“He’s backed up so well in the last 10 days. After Geelong he was bouncing. It’s a different experience for us to back one up three or four days after the race, its unusual, especially over this distance.
‘But he seems to be taking it all right and he is enjoying it in the sunshine. That will help. so we will look forward to Tuesday.” The ultimate racing form guide with free tips, live odds and alerts for all racing.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.