Caulfield Cup effort pivotal for Ruler's Hong Kong date
Arculli's NZ star aiming for Vase
A horse part-owned by former Jockey Club chairman Ronald Arculli is rated a big chance in Saturday's Group One Caulfield Cup in Melbourne, with a strong performance likely to secure an invitation to this year's Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase.
Red Ruler, prepared by John Sargent in New Zealand, has already finished second in two Group One races this year, and the Caulfield Cup, a handicap at 2,400 metres, gives the Viking Ruler gelding a super chance of a breakthrough at the top level.
There is one overriding proviso from Sargent - he wants Melbourne's run of weather to continue through to the weekend.
'That's my worst fear, a wet track,' Sargent said. 'Everything else is falling into place nicely.'
Red Ruler ran a slashing second to another New Zealand-based galloper, Nom du Jour, in the AJC Australian Derby at Randwick on April 26, and at his most recent start he was second to New Zealand's top horse, Princess Coup, in the richest race, the Kelt Capital Stakes over 2,000m in Hawkes Bay.
The Derby form looks exceptional as the third horse in that race, Littorio, is favourite for both the Caulfield Cup and the A$5 million Emirates Melbourne Cup 17 days later.
Sargent said he added some hurdling to Red Ruler's routine before his Kelt run and has maintained it since, saying the four-year-old has been enlivened by the change of pace.
'He went over a dozen today and he might do it again once he's across in Melbourne on Friday,' the Waikato district horseman said.
Red Ruler, a 20-1 chance in pre-post betting, will be ridden by Corey Brown, the former Hong Kong club jockey who has been in devastating form during the Sydney spring carnival.
Jockey Club international racing manager Mark Player said he had had a number of conversations with Sargent about the December international races, and Saturday's run would be pivotal.
'If he wins or runs a top race in the Caulfield Cup, against what will be an outstanding field, Red Ruler would be a very worthy Hong Kong Vase candidate,' Player said.
The New Zealanders will offer a three-pronged attack on Australasia's richest 2,400m race, with Derby winner Nom du Jour (Jeff Lloyd) and AJC Australian Oaks runner-up Boundless.
Another former Hong Kong jockey, Dwayne Dunn, has been given the mount on Boundless, trained by Steven McKee, of Sunline fame.
McKee, who repeatedly pointed out that Boundless was a run short going into the Kelt Capital, said he would have no such excuse in the Caulfield Cup.
'The run in the Kelt, the travel home and the trip to Australia will have her right at her peak,' he told The Age newspaper. 'I can tell by her work since the Kelt she's improved quite a bit. She galloped on Saturday and it was certainly her best work this campaign.'