O'Brien puts faith in Mahler

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2007, 12:00am

Three-year-old adds a fresh dimension to the race

Irish training wizard Aidan O'Brien has set his sights on winning a Melbourne Cup - today's Cup in particular - and the modern history of northern hemisphere racing suggests no trophy is safe once that happens.

O'Brien, 38, has been in Melbourne all week to personally put the finishing touches on Mahler, a three-year-old son of brilliant Epsom Derby hero Galileo, who is making a great name for himself as a stallion.

A southern hemisphere-bred three-year-old hasn't won the big Flemington two-miler since Skipton in 1941, but it took the best stayer of his era, Doriemus, to beat the last well-qualified one that tried, Nothin' Leica Dane, in 1995.

A northern hemisphere-bred three-year-old adds a fresh dimension to a race which has such depth of history - 146 years, to be precise - that almost nothing happens that is without precedent.

Mahler is a natural stayer. He's only raced seven times for three wins and a second, in the Group One English St Leger over 3,000m at Doncaster.

He is also a winner over two miles (3,200m) at Ascot, having won the Group Three Queen's Vase at the Royal meeting in June.

Now you might argue that Mahler is a bit too one-paced to be a true Melbourne Cup type and if he was weighted the way visiting British stayers normally are, we'd agree.

But being a three-year-old, he simply got under the handicapper's radar and that English St Leger happened after weights had been declared. And since he didn't win that race, instead finishing an honourable one-length second to Lugarno, he could not be penalised.

Thus, the greatest trainer in Europe, some say the world, has his classic-placed young stayer in this race with only 111 pounds. And he's a colt with the tactical speed to make full use of the weight advantage.

The rain that deluged Flemington on Sunday shouldn't present too much of a problem.

Not only did he handle the softer conditions well in the Queen's Vase, but his sire Galileo is by the great Sadler's Wells, the ultimate soft-track influence.

Players looking for some value could do much worse than play the New Zealand mare Princess Coup, to be ridden by that country's most famous rider of 3,200m winners, Noel Harris.

The engagement gives Harris perhaps his final chance to right one of the few wrongs of his spectacular career. As a raw teenager, he became remembered as the kid who lost a Melbourne Cup on another New Zealand raider, Glengowan, when senior rider Frank Reyes was simply too strong and too experienced for him in 1973.

The subsequent 34 years have given Harris all the experience he needs and there is no more patient rider in these mini marathons.

Four-year-old mares like Princess Coup have a pretty decent record in the Cup - Ethereal (2000), Jezabeel (1998) and Let's Elope (1991) being the most recent. And in Jezabeel's year, runner-up Champagne was also a four-year-old mare.

Sirmione is the horse that has lent some magic to this race. Trained by Cups maestro Bart Cummings, who turns 80 this month, he bids to give the trainer an unprecedented 12th Melbourne Cup. To give that figure its proper perspective, the second-most successful trainers have won five Cup trophies, Lee Fredman and the 19th century horseman Etienne de Mestre.

Sirmione won Saturday's Mackinnon Stakes with a blistering finish, beating Princess Coup, and the last time Cummings did this, with Rogan Josh (1999), the gelding backed up on the Tuesday to win the Cup as well.

This is the Cup that almost never was. The equine influenza epidemic may have wiped it out altogether and it certainly cost the event its potential Hong Kong contenders.

But the bug stayed out of Victoria, the carnival has progressed - albeit without the usual influx of overseas and interstate stars - and there couldn't be a better time for O'Brien to give fans 'Down Under' a reminder of the kind of trainer he really is.