A pair of French-bred gallopers are fancied by their respective trainers to earn a Golden Ticket into the Melbourne Cup at Flemington this Saturday.
The Bart Cummings over 2500m is race seven of the day and scheduled to commence at 3.50pm AEDT (watch it live and free on 7plus). The winner gains a start in the 2023 Melbourne Cup.
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French raiders Americain and Dunaden won the Melbourne Cup in 2010 and 2011 while another French-bred stayer, Gold Trip, took out Australia’s most famous race just 12 months ago.
Australian breeding focuses on speed and we rely heavily on European imports to make up our staying races. Of the Europeans, the French are said to run their races the most like Australia and have been the ‘go-to’ place for buyers in recent years.
Of the 18 horses in The Bart Cummings, just three of them were bred on Australian soil. The most popular origin is Ireland with seven entries, followed by France with four, Australia and New Zealand with three each and the UK with one.
Tom Sherry and Athabascan salute in the Sydney City Lexus CTC Cup at Royal Randwick Racecourse in September. Credit: Getty Images
Two of those French gallopers, Athabascan and Sheraz, are highly fancied by their respective trainers, John O’Shea and Chris Waller.
Sheraz sits 28th in the order of entry for the Melbourne Cup while Athabascan is down at 41. The Cup field has a capacity of 24 runners every year.
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Athabascan is the winner of three races from 18 starts but importantly two of those victories have come at his past two starts.
“We kept him an entire last prep, which was probably to his detriment then he got a bunch of wet tracks in Sydney which also wasn’t to his advantage,” O’Shea said during the week.
“After his gelding, he’s come back and has had some very nice tracks where he has been able to show his best ability as a progressive young stayer and he’s put two good performances together now.”
Ratings analysts Punting Form marked Athabascan’s win two starts back in the Listed City Tatts Cup [2400m] as his career peak performance. He beat Lloyd Williams’ stayer, Serpentine, and will again race him in The Bart Cummings. Williams has won seven Melbourne Cups, more than any owner in the history of the race.
While O’Shea is hopeful of a drying track, Waller will no doubt be doing a rain dance. Sheraz has never won on a good surface but has finished in the Quinella in five of his 10 starts on soft ground.
Trainer Chris Waller is hoping for a soft track on Saturday. Credit: Getty Images
The son of champion European stayer Sea The Stars had a long break coming into this preparation and according to his trainer is ready to peak this weekend.
“His run last start was good and he now gets up to a suitable trip,” Waller said before disclosing why punters can expect to see sharp improvement from Sheraz, who finished second in the Sydney Cup [3200m] on we ground in 2022.
“He’s been up to Macedon [where Lloyd Williams horses were trained before dispersal] and loves it there. He loves it there better than Flemington and he’s been eating more there.”
Waller said he was hopeful Flemington would present with some give in the track come Saturday.
“It was like a road down there on Tuesday morning, they’ve had a bit of rain but it’ll dry out,” he said.
The best Australian-bred winning chance in the Melbourne Cup this year could come in the form of First Immortal, co-trained by Mark Kavanagh, who saddled up Shocking to win the big one in 2009.
The winner of seven from 13 starts and three from four at Flemington, this son of Churchill just keeps lifting every time the bar is raised.
He won a Benchmark 78 race last start, a far cry from the class of The Bart Cummings, but he smashed them by 3.5L and did it carrying 63kg.
He drops to 54kg this weekend and to give some context, most ratings analysts will say in staying races over 2000m or further 1kg equals one length. Therefore, a 9kg drop in weight should see a horse run nine lengths faster.
Punting Form ratings show Gold Trip won the Melbourne Cup last year running 17L faster than the national benchmark for 3200m races.
First Immortal’s last start win rated 6L faster than benchmark. Shrewd assessors will say he can improve 9L to a figure around 15L faster than benchmark when he runs in The Bart Cummings. That figure is only 2L off what Gold Trip did in last year’s Melbourne Cup.
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