Finche has all the credentials to hand Waller his first Cup win
The dominance of European-trained runners, as both a rhetorical device and a practical reality, has virtually become a truism in the long and winding road en route to the Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m) and for some the path to Flemington has contained notable bumps for the visiting cohort in the final few weeks. For instance, the starting line-up is absent of key ante-post protagonists Withhold (Champs Elysees), the ill-fated Hamada (Cape Cross) and Red Verdon (Lemon Drop Kid), and race-day has arrived with a total of eleven international contenders included as part of the chosen 24, ten of which are trained in Europe and eight of which occupy the top ten positions in what promises to be a fervent, and fascinating, betting market.
But could there be one final twist to the tale? The prospect of significant overnight rainfall has the potential to change the complexion of the race, particularly on a well-watered track, although so, too, does Chris Waller, as the acquisition of European import Finche (Frankel), sprinkled with a touch of the maestro’s antipodean magic, might prove the combination required to thwart the dreams of those foreign competitors expecting to plunder Australia’s most coveted prize.
Formerly trained in France by Andre Fabre, Finche proved a consistent performer in the European spring, posting three consecutive Racing Post Ratings of 110, including a seven-length fifth behind Cracksman (Frankel) in the Prix Ganay (Gr 1, 2000m) at Paris-Longchamp in May. With his sights lowered on the back of a sixty three-day break, the four-year-old improved on that form to make all in the Prix De Reux (Gr 3, 2500m) at Deauville in August, fending off Tiberian (Tiberius Caesar) by a length and three quarters having never looked in any serious danger throughout the contest.
Switched to the care of Waller subsequently, Finche made a highly-encouraging southern hemisphere debut when finishing third, beaten a length a half, behind the re-opposing Runaway (Manhattan Rain) in the Geelong Cup (Gr 3, 2400m) last month, hitting the line strongly having travelled nicely into contention. He is set to meet that penalised rival on three kilograms better terms and this half-brother to the high-class duo of Byword (Peintre Celebre) and Proviso (Dansili) shapes like a significant improver for the increased emphasis on stamina, while he won’t lack for tactical speed either.
In a week whereby the colours of Prince Khalid Abdullah were displayed in full bloom at the Breeders’ Cup courtesy of Enable (Nathaniel) and Expert Eye (Acclamation), Finche boasts the right credentials to pull off the most memorable trans-Pacific treble, in partnership with N A Greenhalgh et al, and keep the $7.3 million prize on home soil, a feat that has seemed most unlikely since the European battalion began pointing their compasses south over six months ago.
Spearheading the foreign contingent is the Aidan O’Brien-trained Yucatan (Galileo), who leapt to the head of the betting for the race following his runaway victory in the Herbert Power Stakes (Gr 2, 2400m) at Caulfield in October, for which he obtained an unprecedented 2.5 kilogram penalty and has been kept deliberately fresh subsequently.
While his latest success was an aesthetic feast, the performance, rather interestingly, merited an RPR of 113, only 1lb higher than the very best of his European form achieved as a three-year-old last season. Pitched into significantly deeper company and racing for the first time beyond 2400 metres, Yucatan looks vulnerable enough for one so short in the market.
More pertinent, perhaps, are the claims of his stable companion The Cliffsofmoher (Galileo), who developed a reputation as a nearly-horse in Europe having won only three times, albeit in the face of some stiff tasks, which included finishing third behind Roaring Lion (Kitten’s Joy) in the Eclipse Stakes (Gr 1, 1m2f) at Sandown in July.
A tilt at the Spring Carnival has seemingly been the long-term plan since and he has enjoyed a pleasing preparation in Australia, staying on into fourth in the Caulfield Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) at Caulfield in October before improving on that form to finish third in the Caulfield Cup (Gr 1, 2400m) the following week, again finishing strongly despite showing a tendency to lug-in behind late on. He is not guaranteed to stay on pedigree, but he shapes like the step up in trip will eke out some more improvement, and while he is weighted on the very peak of his European form, he is a classy operator who ought to be right in the thick of things if his stamina limitations hold out.
Best Solution (Kodiac) received an enterprising ride by Pat Cosgrave when defying a tardy start and a wide draw to win the Caulfield Cup, kicking for home at the three-furlong marker having been able to obtain an advantageous tactical position towards the forefront of a steady early gallop. He showed a willing attitude in the closing stages on that occasion, sticking his neck out to repel the challenge of Homesman (War Front) and record a third consecutive top-flight success. He has the unwelcome burden of top weight today and despite showing his ability of staying over extended trips, he is a son of renowned speed influencer Kodiac (Danehill), therefore it is easy to think this trip will prove beyond his capabilities.
Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation will fire a total of three bullets at the race, including the Charlie Appleby-trained Cross Counter (Teofilo), who spearheads a brace of representatives for the Classic generation.
Despite having suffered an injury scare during the middle of October, the three-year-old arrives here as a feasibly-handicapped, progressive colt who looks sure to relish an extreme stamina test. He boasts a similar profile to last year’s winner Rekindling (High Chaparral), with both having achieved a peak European RPR of 118, for all the latter carried 1 kilogram more in this contest.
The trio of representatives carrying silks of royal blue will be completed by the James Cummings-trained Avilius (Pivotal), who was also under the care of Andre Fabre during the formative part of his career. He achieved his best form when finishing runner-up to Cracksman in the Prix Niel (Gr 2, 2400m) as a three-year-old, making him closely matched with Finche, while he has progressed well since being shipped to the southern hemisphere, winning his first four outings before acquitting himself with credit in the Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2000m).
A strong-traveller who is perhaps not the most straightforward under pressure, Avilius is likely to be going as well as anything as the field emerge out of the back straight, but the extra four furlongs will ask a stringent stamina question of a son of Pivotal (Polar Falcon) and there must remain a significant doubt about him getting home with the gusto required to take a hand in the finish.
Stamina ought not to be a problem for Chris Waller’s sole female representative Youngstar (High Chaparral), who entered all open notebooks when making significant late gains in the Caulfield Cup, but with a peak RPR of 102 her overall form is not in the same bracket as plenty of these and she doesn’t appeal as being attractively handicapped in the context of this company.
The Ian Williams-trained Magic Circle (Makfi) is perhaps the strongest confirmed stayer in the line-up, although many will be hoping his stamina limitations falter after his owner, Dr Marwan Koukash, has virulently promised a scantily-clad post-race celebration that seems set to leave any impending onlookers permanently scarred.
However, the claims of Magic Circle are very apparent, with him having been saved for the race following a six-length demolition of his rivals in the Henry II Stakes (Gr 3, 2m) at Sandown in May, his second start for the ultra-shrewd Williams, who is developing an enviable record of improving horses switched into his care.
That said, a European official rating of 117 probably overestimates the level of form Magic Circle achieved when winning on that occasion given he saw the trip out much more thoroughly than his seven rivals and 56 kilograms is sufficient weight on the bare evidence of that contest, for all conditions will suit and he remains open to further improvement.
Marmelo (Duke Of Marmalade), who finished ninth in the race last year when sent off joint favourite, has enjoyed a consistent summer in Europe without suggesting he has found any improvement in the interim period. Any rainfall would be a positive for his claims, although it is difficult to see him winning, while the John Gosden-trained Muntahaa (Dansili) is an intriguing contender following his imperious success in the Ebor Handicap (1m6f) at York in August.
The five-year-old ought to stay this trip fine given his strength at the finish there, but he has been described as “claustrophobic” by connections in the past and the enterprising tactics employed by Jim Crowley at York – keeping the horse wide early before slotting into the main pack – will not be repeatable at this track from stall thirteen.
Finally, win, lose or draw plenty of plaudits ought to be heaped on trainer Charlie Fellowes, who has campaigned A Prince Of Arran (Shirocco) brilliantly throughout his career, including a half-length success in the Lexus Stakes (registered as Hotham Handicap) (Gr 3, 2500m) at this course on Saturday to secure an unpenalised place in the final line-up having looked virtually assured to miss out on a slot. The six-year-old will appreciate the return to this trip and while he is unlikely to have the class edge to land the spoils, he certainly won’t disgrace himself on the biggest stage he has performed on to date.
A further thirteen runners are set to go to post in this most magnificent of sporting institutions and while history makes it very clear that the market can be proved wrong, it would be nothing less than a major upset if the winner emerged from a hitherto unmentioned source.
Humpleby’s Top 4
- Magic Circle
- Cross Counter
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