Melbourne Cup contender snared
It’s 13 years since Mike Moroney became the first Matamata trainer to saddle up a Melbourne Cup winner and now he believes he has the ammunition for a repeat next Tuesday.
The big hope to replicate Ballymore Stables’ landmark victory by Brew in 2000 is Voleuse de Coeurs.
In spite of her French moniker – which to the best of my knowledge translates to ‘‘heart stealer’’ – the mare is Irish-bred and has done all her racing in the Emerald Isle. Most importantly she has the right form to say she’s a real chance in next Tuesday’s A$6.2 million nation-stopper.
Mike Moroney has his bloodstock agent brother Paul to thank for Voleuse de Coeurs falling into his lap after she had been spotted as a likely Melbourne Cup contender earlier this year. Paul spends much of his time these days based in the United Kingdom and Voleuse de Coeurs caught his attention when winning a stakes race over 14 furlongs ( 2800 metres) in Ireland in May. That followed her win in the 3200-metre Irish Cesarawitch last year and collectively made a compelling case in Paul’s hunt for likely Melbourne Cup material.
He was unable to nail a deal, however, and in mid-September had to sit and watch as the fouryear-old mare went on to score a six-length win in the Gr. 1 Irish St Leger at the Curragh. Other scouts with similar ambitions were also on the trail of Voleuse de Coeurs but Paul didn’t let up and when their negotiations fell through, he returned with another bid on behalf of the powerful Hong Kong- based Sun International Group and finally secured her at what has been described as a ‘‘substantial seven-figure sum’’.
Voleuse de Coeurs had until then been in the stable of leading trainer Dermot Weld, the Irishman who paved the way for what has become an annual invasion of northern hemisphere-trained Melbourne Cup aspirants when he produced Vintage Crop to win the 1993 Melbourne Cup. Dermot added another Cup with Media Puzzle in 2002 and as a further reminder of their depth of talent, last year’s race was totally dominated by Irish-breds, with the first seven finishers bred in Ireland.
A further parallel in regard to Voleuse de Coeurs is that Vintage Crop’s last win before he headed south 20 years ago was also the Irish St Leger, a factor that hasn’t been missed by her new trainer.
‘‘I’d have to rate her my best Melbourne Cup prospect since Xcellent (third in 2005),’’ Mike said when your roving reporter caught up with him in Melbourne last weekend. ‘‘Watching her race replays and talking to people, she’s obviously a very good stayer.’’ Voleuse de Coeurs was on the last charter flight carrying carnival candidates, arriving in Melbourne 11 days ago and stabled since at the specially appointed quarantine centre at Werribee racecourse just south of metropolitan Melbourne.
Mike had some concerns about her lack of bodyweight when he first laid eyes on her, but every day since he’s seen the improvement in her. ‘‘Of all the horses I’ve had travel down from the UK she’s taken it the best of any,’’ he said. ‘‘She’s eaten everything we’ve put in front of her since she landed and when I took her out for a pick after she had worked the other morning she did as good a job as your lawnmower would.’’ After keeping Voleuse de Coeurs to light duties for the first week, Mike has been able to step her work up and on Tuesday morning her Cup rider James McDonald was due to test her in her first serious gallop. James might have missed out in the Cox Plate on Kiwi hope It’s A Dundeel but still rode two feature winners on the Moonee Valley programme, and Mike is more than happy to have engaged him for the big one.
‘‘The owners had a bunch of riders on their list – mostly internationals – and they settled on James after knowing what he achieved in Hong Kong and also having ridden in Europe. He’s right up with the best jockeys in Australia now and has what it takes for a race like the Melbourne Cup.’’ While Voleuse de Coeurs is on the top 10 list of Cup qualifiers, Mike also harbours hopes of at least one other runner, with lesser lights Araldo and Garud engaged in Saturday’s final chance qualifier, the Lexus Handicap. That’s the same race that Brew won and thereby snuck into the Cup field in 2000 and Mike hasn’t given up hope that he may get the chance of a decent second-string prospect.
As already referred to, imports make up the bulk of Melbourne Cup runners these days, but New Zealand is likely to still have one runner, the Roger James-trained Silent Achiever. While she’s trained in Cambridge, the 2012 New Zealand Derby winner has a strong local connection, being by Waikato Stud sire O’Reilly and reared at Valachi Downs, the Hinuera Valley nursery belonging to Silent Achiever’s Christchurch owner Kevin Hickman.