American-bred, French-trained galloper Americain will carry favouritism into Tuesday’s US$6.2 million (HK$48 million) Melbourne Cup as he attempts to win Australia’s richest and most prestigious race for the second time.
The eight-year-old stallion, trained by Alain de Royer Dupre and ridden by popular Australian jockey Damien Oliver, was quoted by bookmakers on Monday at around 6-1, narrowly ahead of the defending champion, English-trained Dunaden.
Americain won the 150th edition of the two-mile turf handicap in 2010 and finished fourth behind Dunaden last year after starting favourite and carrying top weight of 58 kilograms.
Dunaden, trained at Chantilly by Mark Delzangles and ridden by Australian Craig Williams, carries this year’s top weight of 59 kilograms, in a 24-horse field.
Williams was due to ride the horse in last year’s Cup before incurring a suspension and conceding the winning mount to Frenchman Christophe Lemaire.
Dunaden, bought as a weanling for only 1,500 euros (HK$14,786), will take his stake earnings past $10 million (HK$98.6 million) if he can win the race for a second time.
To do so Dunaden, a last-start winner of the Caulfield Cup, will have to overcome a barrier draw of 16. Owner Sheikh Al Thani said he was less concerned by the draw than the fact trainer Delzangles arrived in Australia after winning the juvenile Breeders Cup at Santa Anita in the United States.
“I hope my trainer hasn’t used up all my luck in America,” he said. “The barrier is okay, 59 kilograms is a worry. We’re hoping he can do it again.”
Oliver won the ride on Americain when the horse’s owners, Australian businessmen Gerry Ryan and Kevin Bamford, sacked French rider Gerald Mosse after the horse finished fourth behind Dunaden in the Caulfield Cup.
The Australian rider will also be chasing his third Melbourne Cup victory, 10 years after winning his second in 2002 on Media Puzzle, only days after his brother died in a fall from a horse.
“He’s an amazing horse,” Oliver said of Americain. “He’s in great condition. He’s in great form. It’s a great opportunity.”
Americain also has in his favour the fact that 34 of the 151 previous winners of the race have been favourites.
Overseas-trained horses dominate the field and the betting market for the 152nd running of the Cup. Only six of the 24 runners are trained in the southern hemisphere.
Six-year-old gelding Mount Athos, trained by Luca Cumani, was on the third line of favouritism, just ahead of Red Cadeaux, beaten a nose by Dunaden last year in the closest finish in Cup history.
Maluckyday, who finished second to Americain two years ago, was the fourth favourite at 11-1.
Mount Athos, who is coming off a hat-trick of wins and is fresh after last racing in mid-August, has drawn barrier eight and will carry only 54kg.
“We wanted to draw as close to 10 as possible and we are right where we wanted to be,” owner Marwan Koukash said. “The horse has travelled well, and we have a good barrier, so I can’t wait.”’
The race, at 3pm local time (12pm in Hong Kong) at the Flemington racetrack, is expected to draw a crowd of more than 100,000. A total of 105,979 people watched Dunaden win last year, short of the record crowd in 2003 of 122,736.