Aga Khan targets Emirates Melbourne Cup

Victoria’s famous Spring Racing Carnival has scored a major endorsement with the news that His Highness the Aga Khan IV will have his maiden runner in the $6.2 million Emirates Melbourne Cup (3200m) this November.

The 49th and current Imam of the Nizari Ismailism, which counts more than 15 million followers worldwide, is one of the world’s largest and most successful racehorse owners and breeders.

His colours will be worn on the first Tuesday in November by classy mare Verema who is trained by Frenchman Alain de Royer Dupre – the man who guided Americain to an historic victory in the 150th Cup in 2010.

At her most recent start at Deauville on 18 August, Verema showed a blistering turn of foot to win the Group 2 Prix de Kergorlay (3000m) – the same race Americain won en route to his Cup triumph.

“His Highness the Aga Khan is delighted to have his first ever runner in the Melbourne Cup,” Georges Rimaud, French manager of The Aga Khan Studs, said in confirming his participation overnight.

“Verema is an improving filly that has won two consecutive Group 2 staying races against the colts. She likes good ground, travels well and is very consistent.

“Her trainer, Alain de Royer Dupré, who previously won the Melbourne Cup with Americain, believes she has the right profile to be competitive in this race, so His Highness decided to let her take her chance.”

Racing Victoria’s (RV) international recruitment officer, Leigh Jordon, said the Aga Khan’s decision to send Verema down under was another significant step in the internationalisation of Australia’s most famous race.

“His Highness the Aga Khan is one of the most influential owners and breeders in the world, so we are delighted that he has decided to send his first runner to Australia for this year’s Emirates Melbourne Cup,” Jordon said.

“We have seen French horses win two of the past three Cups and Verema will arrive in Melbourne with a similarly impressive formline. Fit and well, she will be one of the hardest to beat at Flemington, particularly with Alain de Royer Dupre overseeing her campaign.”

Verema has never finished further back than fifth in 12 starts amassing four wins and three placings. She has been ridden in all bar one appearance by Christophe Lemaire, the man who steered Dunaden to victory in the 2011 Cup.

The Aga Khan has expanded his interest in Australian racing in the past 12 months shuttling the nation’s champion stallion Redoute’s Choice to his French stud to stand the 2013 northern hemisphere breeding season.

The Aga Khan has owned or bred the winners of many of the world’s great races including multiple Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes, Breeders Cups, Irish Derbies, Irish St Legers, Irish Champion Stakes, Ascot Gold Cups, Hong Kong Vases and King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

He counts 2012 Australian Cup winner Manighar and Her Majesty The Queen’s recent Ascot Gold Cup winner Estimate amongst the horses he has bred.

Athos placing continues Melbourne March

Luca Cumani’s great Emirates Melbourne Cup hope Mount Athos suffered his third straight defeat as he just failed to catch front-running Harris Tweed in the Listed March Stakes (2800m) at Goodwood overnight.

Cumani, who has twice gone close at Flemington with Bauer and Purple Moon, had said this week that Mount Athos represents his best chance of plundering the world-famous handicap, and the Italian-born trainer would be able to take encouragement from the six-year-old’s agonisingly narrow defeat early on Sunday morning.

Tactics and pace have played a huge part in Mount Athos’s two disappointing runs in the Hardwicke Stakes (2400m) at Royal Ascot and the Goodwood Cup (3200m), and he showed a little more on this occasion when beaten just a head under first-time pilot Richard Hughes.

George Baker employed the same catch-me-if-you-can tactics aboard Harris Tweed that worked so successfully for them at the Glorious meeting, and the pair were once again the target as the seven-strong field raced down inside the closing stages of the 2800-metre event.

Hughes had Mount Athos no worse than third throughout and although his Marwan Koukash-owned partner took time to hit top gear, the son of Montjeu ate into Harris Tweed’s margin only to lose out by a diminishing margin.

Harris Tweed and Mount Athos pulled six lengths clear of third-placed Tac De Boistron, who was making his debut for Marco Botti having been last seen finishing 23rd behind Green Moon in the Cup last November.

Cumani had taken the March Stakes in two of the last three years with My Quest For Peace winning 12 months ago before running tenth in the Cup. Drunken Sailor was beaten at odds-on the previous year after winning in 2010 prior to his Spring Carnival trip.

The trainer watched the race from his Newmarket base, but his wife Sara confirmed the Melbourne Cup would be Mount Athos’s next outing in a bid to improve on last year’s fast-finishing fifth-placed effort.

She said: “I still don’t think this is his track and the ground wasn’t ideal but he has run better than he did the last two times.

“Depending on the owner, I think the plan’s still to go to Melbourne. I don’t think he’ll run again as he likes his races spaced out.

“He’ll fly out in the second wave of horses and I believe he’ll enter quarantine on September 26th.”

Story by Martin Kelly


Cauthen awesome at Valley

Andrew Campbell doesn’t look like the sort of guy that will ever be relaxed in the lead-up to the BECK Caulfield Guineas, but he is breathing easier after today’s $120,000 Listed Essendon Nissan McKenzie Stakes at Moonee Valley.

The Kiwi trainer’s stable star Cauthen not only assured his place in the Guineas, but shot to the top of betting charts for the $1 million event on 12 October, with a brilliant victory in the 1200-metre event.

The victory atoned for an unlucky first-up defeat at Moonee Valley on 3 August and took his earnings to more than $90,000, which was a relief to the trainer who admits to being a bundle of nerves before each race.

“We’re under a lot of pressure to get him to the Guineas, with his prizemoney, and that’s going to help us a long way now,” Campbell said. “It’s brilliant.

“That’s why he came over for the 1000-metre race three weeks ago, just to try and get in there without having to pressure-cooker him towards the end.”

Like at his Australian debut, when a mid-race check cost him victory, Cauthen unleashed an impressive burst in the short Moonee Valley straight.

He gobbled up leader Clevadude, who was his conqueror earlier in the month, at the top of the straight and swiftly put the race beyond doubt.

The $2.60 favourite was looked after by jockey James McDonald late and had 1-1/2 lengths to spare over Shamus Award ($5.50), who had trouble getting a run until well into the straight. The previously unbeaten Long John ($6) hit the line well for third, three-quarters-of-a-length back.

McDonald was taken by the performance and suggested the son of Darci Brahma will be better as the races get longer.

“He got into a lovely rhythm today,” he said. “Probably that 1000-metre race really took the sharpness out of him. He felt quite dour today and he’s probably looking for that 14 (hundred metres) to a mile.

“As soon as he straightened up he changed leg and he just powered home, he’s a good colt.”

Cauthen will next be seen at Flemington on 7 September for the Henry Bucks Best Dressed Stakes before taking in the $175,000 Group 3 Caulfield Guineas Prelude on Sunday 29 September.

Story by Brad Bishop


Gregers stars for Schofield

Chad Schofield had been itching to get aboard Gregers and today the star filly emphasised why, trouncing her rivals in the $80,000 Mitchelton Wines Plate (1200m) at Moonee Valley.

It was the first time apprentice jockey Schofield, stable rider for Gregers’ trainer David Hayes, has ridden the three-year-old in a race.

Claiming apprentice Kayla Nisbet was aboard when she resumed with a dominant win at the Valley on 3 August, while Dwayne Dunn rode her at her only two runs in her debut preparation, during the Melbourne Festival of Racing.

Schofield has done plenty of work aboard the daughter of Commands at Hayes’ Euroa base and was not surprised that she was able to amble to a 1-3/4-length win over well-performed Mick Kent-trained filly The Huntress.

“She gave me a great feel,” Schofield said. “She did it very easily. She had a big look down the straight, so she did it very comfortably.

“The horse of Mick Kent’s has a big wrap on it too and for her to smash them like that was very positive and good to see.”

Gregers replaced dual Group 1 winner Guelph at the head of the TAB’s Schweppes Thousand Guineas, at $5, with her dominant victory.

While a barnstorming finish was the feature of her first-up success, which came over 1000m, the $1.35 favourite demonstrated her versatility with her all-the-way success.

“With the bigger races in mind, I would have liked to get cover but she just jumped so well and had too much speed, so I just let her slide across,” Schofield said.

“She had her ears pricked through the race and he has a big look down the straight, so that means she’s done it really easily.

“She’s a very nice filly. She’s doing everything right at the moment and let’s hope she can go forward and contest those big races.”

Schofield, Victoria’s premier apprentice last season, is yet to win a Group race and Hayes said he is likely to get that chance at Flemington on 7 September with the $220,000 Group 2 Danehill Stakes (1200m) her next probable start.

“If she eats up we’ll go towards the Danehill and then back against the fillies in the (Guineas) Prelude and then into the Guineas if all goes well,” Hayes said.

“That can be variable, but we’re well ahead of schedule at the moment. She’s had two lovely introductions to racing this year and hopefully she just gets better as the campaign goes on.”

The Group 2 Thousand Guineas Prelude is at Caulfield on 21 September with the $500,000 Group 1 Schweppes Thousand Guineas at the same track on 16 October.

Story by Brad Bishop


Cups hope Dandino wins American St Leger

If the precedent set twelve months ago is any indication, Dandino could have some exciting times in store for his Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock (ATB) syndicate of owners after winning the Listed American St Leger (2700m) at Arlington Park, near Chicago, USA.

Dandino made it a double for Italian-born, UK-based trainer Marco Botti and ATB in the St Leger after Jakkalberry won the 2012 edition before running a luckless 13th in the BMW Caulfield Cup and rattling home for third in the Emirates Melbourne Cup behind Green Moon at $81.

Ridden by Ryan Moore, Dandino started favourite at $1.60 local and had to earn the victory with everything not quite going their way in the run.

“He traveled over from England really well so before the race we were really confident that he would run well and when then second favourite (Dark Cove) was scratched we knew we would be a short priced favourite”, said Darren Dance, ATB managing director, of the Leger lead-up.

“He jumped well and settled nicely but we were back on the fence amongst the pack and I was a little concerned whether he could get out and pick them up.

“On the corner Ryan said that he copped some interference which cost Dandino two or three lengths plus they weren’t too keen to let him out to get the clear run but once the gap opened he really quickened will and hit the line strongly.”

Moore noted post-race that the horse felt like he had a lot more to give which pleased Dance before embarking on a Melbourne mission.

Winner of the 2011 Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes and 2012 Group 3 September Stakes, both at 2400-metres in England, TAB rates Dandino a $17 chance for the Caulfield Cup and $26 for the Melbourne Cup.

“Before this race I thought that he is probably a better Caulfield Cup chance than a Melbourne Cup chance as his form over 2400-metres has been really good but after running out the 2700-metre trip here, he may just be a better two-mile prospect now that we thought”, Dance noted and attributed much of the change to Botti’s training polish.

“We think he can be really competitive in both races.”

Dandino will now head back to England to prepare for the quarantine period before arriving in Melbourne with the first group of European raiders on Grand Final Day (28 September).

One of the positives of Jakkalberry’s performances last Spring was that a number of the owners involved were new to horse ownership and that trend has continued with Dandino.

Dance hopes Dandino will deliver further on the promising start to his campaign .

“They’ll all get a photo of the win on the wall and so many more owners new to the experience are getting a great thrill.”

Story by Danny Matthews