In the early days of the Breeders’ Cup Meeting, French stables seemed to find it easier to hit the target than did their British and Irish counterparts. By contrast, though, when European horses began to challenge for the Melbourne Cup, the European trainers who enjoyed the most success were those from the British Isles, with Dermot Weld’s victories with Vintage Crop and Media Puzzle being backed up by numerous minor placings from British-trained contenders.
However, last year that all changed as the French-trained Americain proved the best of the European challengers, winning the 150th Melbourne Cup while Godolphin’s Holberg fared best of the five runners from Britain and Ireland by finishing sixth.
This year the French look poised to make an even bigger impact on ‘the race that stops a nation’: following Americain’s victory in the Moonee Valley Cup on Saturday, French horses now occupy the first two places in Melbourne Cup ante-post markets.
Americain’s form in Europe this summer was not particularly inspiring, but Alain de Royer-Dupre has maintained all season that he has been training his charge to peak on the first Tuesday in November. The Moonee Valley Cup suggested that the master trainer has his timing spot on, because Americain’s victory over Tullamore (who had finished an excellent third in the Caulfield Cup seven days previously) was outstanding.
This represents a different lead-in to the Cup from last year, when Americain used the Geelong Cup (run three days before the Moonee Valley Cup) as his prep race. Americain duly followed in the footsteps of Media Puzzle by winning both the Geelong Cup and the Melbourne Cup, and the horse who can now try to complete the double this year is Americain’s compatriot Dunaden, trained for Pearl Bloodstock by Mikel Delzangles.
Winner of the Group Three Prix de Barbeville over 3100m at Longchamp in April, Dunaden will surely give Americain a race at Flemington. His Geelong Cup victory was very good, as he quickened up readily under a confident ride from Craig Williams to come home three quarters of a length clear of the favourite Tanby, an Australian-bred son of Galileo.
Luca Cumani’s Bauer (who had won the Geelong Cup in 2008 en route to a nose defeat in the Melbourne Cup) finished the same margin away in third, having made up several lengths in the final furlong after enduring an interrupted passage through the race, and he could be the horse most likely to prevent a French Melbourne Cup quinella – as long as he can get a start in the race.
At present, Bauer needs 20 horses to come out of the Melbourne Cup to avoid elimination, but the attritional nature of the high-pressure Spring Carnival racing means that that could well happen.