PUNTERS believe the Damien Oliver factor could see English galloper Mutual Regard become the first overseas runner since Vintage Crop in 1993 to win the Melbourne Cup without having a lead-up race in Australia.
Since Irish trainer Dermot Weld bought Vintage Crop Down Under to claim our great race, overseas trainers have targeted the Melbourne Cup in increasing numbers.
But of the close-to 70 horses that have run in the Cup at their first start in Australia since the Irish gelding, none have been able to win.
Despite that, former champion English jockey-turned trainer Johnny Murtagh has chosen that path for Mutual Regard, who has won seven of his 17 starts in Great Britain. The last of those was in the Ebor Handicap over 2800m at York on August 23, carrying a hefty 61kg.
Punters haven't been put off by the lack of a lead-up run, however, with the six-year-old heavily backed to win the Cup. Six weeks ago he was quoted at $41 but was listed at $8.80 with Tattsbet yesterday, pushing Japanese visitor Admire Rakti and Newcastle-trained mare Lucia Valentina for favouritism.
Oliver has already ridden three Melbourne Cup winners - Doriemus in 1995, Media Puzzle in 2002 and Fiorente last year.
Apart from Mutual Regard, six other English-trained horses will be trying to win the Cup without a lead-up race in Australia. They are Cavalryman, Red Cadeaux, Royal Diamond (also trained by Murtagh), Gatewood, My Ambivalent and Willing Foe.
The other runners in single figures late yesterday were Admire Rakti ($7.70), Lucia Valentina ($7.40), Fawkner ($9.10) and Protectionist ($9.50).
BELOW Wayne Heming's Phantom Call for the Cup
Lucia Valentina is the youngest runner in the field.
Lucia Valentina is attempting to become just the sixth four-year-old mare to win the Melbourne Cup. The last to achieve that feat was another New Zealand-bred mare, Ethereal, in 2001.
Trained by Kris Lees, Lucia Valentina has won five of her 13 starts and was an excellent third to Admire Rakti in the Caulfield Cup at her last start.
The main question mark over the daughter of Savabeel is whether she will run out a strong 3200m but Lees said he was hopeful she would.
"You never know for sure until they are tried at the distance but I'm pretty confident she will run it," he said.
"I can't fault her. She has had a fantastic preparation and I'm really looking forward to the race."
Lees nominated Admire Rakti, Fawkner, Protectionist and Lexus Stakes winner Signoff as the hardest to beat. The track at Flemington is expected to be a good three by race time this afternoon. The field was reduced to 23 yesterday morning with the scratching of outsider Sea Moon.
Selections: Lucia Valentina, Fawkner, Protectionist, Admire Rakti. Best outsider: Araldo.
DON'T MISS OUR FOUR-PAGE FORM GUIDE INCLUDING THE MELBOURNE CUP RACE IN TODAY'S DAILY. STARTS ON PAGE 23.
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