O’Brien’s fo­cus switches to the Mel­bourne Cup

Yu­catan set to lead Ir­ish­man’s three-pronged as­sault on ‘race that stops a na­tion’

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Racing - Brian O’Con­nor Rac­ing Cor­re­spon­dent

Ai­dan O’Brien drew a Breed­ers’ Cup blank in Ken­tucky, but switches his in­ter­na­tional fo­cus to Aus­tralia in the early hours of to­mor­row morn­ing and a po­ten­tial first Mel­bourne Cup suc­cess.

A quar­ter of a cen­tury af­ter Der­mot Weld’s Vin­tage Crop trans­formed the race that fa­mously stops a na­tion, O’Brien is set to be triple-handed in an at­tempt to sad­dle what would be a fourth Ir­ish-trained Mel­bourne Cup win­ner.

Weld added to his cup haul with Me­dia Puz­zle in 2002 and O’Brien’s son Joseph sad­dled Rekin­dling to a fa­mous Ir­ish 1-2-3 a year ago.

It was O’Brien Snr who had to set­tle for the run­ner up spot in 2017, through Jo­hannes Ver­meer, and in 2007 was third with Mahler.

Star Bal­ly­doyle names such as Yeats tried and failed in the in­terim, and O’Brien’s var­ied Mel­bourne ex­pe­ri­ence with nine run­ners to date also in­cluded a high-pro­file dis­agree­ment over rid­ing tac­tics with the Flem­ing­ton’s stew­ards in 2008.

How­ever, there are plenty ex­perts both in Aus­tralia and closer to home who reckon Yu­catan is the Ir­ish­man’s best chance to date.

The re­gally bred colt has been ante-post cup favourite since a spec­tac­u­lar Aus­tralian de­but in a Caulfield Grade Two last month.

He is joined among the 24 run­ners by his sta­ble com­pan­ions Rostropovich and last year’s Derby run­ner-up Cliff Of Mo­her.

He has had a “The’”at­tached to his name to dis­tin­guish him from an Aus­tralian horse of the same name.

No­table per­for­mance

Ryan Moore and Wayne Lor­dan go to Mel­bourne from Churchill Downs where Mag­i­cal’s sec­ond to En­able in the $4 mil­lion Turf was the most no­table per­for­mance from O’Brien’s 14 Breed­ers’ Cup run­ners.

Lo­cal rider James McDon­ald rode Yu­catan at Caulfield, and keeps the ride as owner Lloyd Wil­liams pur­sues a sev­enth Mel­bourne Cup vic­tory.

On the run-up to the big race there has been plenty of at­ten­tion paid to what have been de­scribed as light­en­ing quick ground con­di­tions at Flem­ing­ton, which could be mu­sic to O’Brien’s ears.

“He [Yu­catan] loves fast ground,” the Ir­ish­man told Aus­tralian me­dia over the week­end. “The bet­ter the ground, the bet­ter his chance.”

The neg­a­tive el­e­ment to Yu­catan’s pro­file ap­pears to be a wide drawn in stall 23 of the 24 run­ners. It is 42 years since a horse drawn in 23 has man­aged to win the cup. The same 23 draw might have cost Tony Martin’s Heart­break City vic­tory in 2016.

How­ever Lloyd Wil­liams’s son Nick has dis­missed the im­por­tance of the draw.

He de­scribed Yu­catan as a “Mel­bourne Cup win­ner in wait­ing” af­ter the horse’s Caulfield suc­cess, and told lo­cal me­dia in Mel­bourne: “I think bar­ri­ers [stalls] are over­rated. It doesn’t worry me at all. There’s a 100-me­tre run to the first turn to work it out.

“In a per­fect world you would draw five to 10 but I don’t think it mat­ters. He’s fly­ing. I can’t think of a time when we have taken a horse in bet­ter con­di­tion to the races.”

The Wil­liams colours will also be car­ried by The Cliff­sof­mo­her who had two Caulfield starts last month. They both looked promis­ing for a colt who has ul­ti­mately proved dis­ap­point­ing since his 2017 Derby ef­fort.

Only Godol­phin’s Best So­lu­tion is ahead of him in the weights, but on fast ground over two miles his class could make him a player, al­though the fin­ish might test his res­o­lu­tion.

Ch­est­nut Coast will try to be­come a sec­ond Ja­panese win­ner of the race, but the bulk of the in­ter­na­tional chal­lenge is made up by the seven Bri­tish con­tenders.

Mel­bourne Cup

No Bri­tish-trained horse has man­aged to win the Mel­bourne Cup, but in a field ap­par­ently dom­i­nated by in­ter­na­tional con­tenders some lay­ers are go­ing only evens about that statis­tic chang­ing when the gates open at 4am to­mor­row morn­ing Ir­ish time.

Best of the Bri­tish hopes could be an­other of Godol­phin’s hopes, Cross Counter, who looks pro­gres­sive and has re­port­edly thrived in the Aus­tralian spring sun­shine.

His trainer Char­lie Ap­pleby main­tained his su­perb Breed­ers Cup record on Fri­day night through Line Of Duty’s Ju­ve­nile Turf suc­cess, and can boast a big-race Aus­tralian CV that shows he knows what is re­quired to win down un­der.

The Mel­bourne Cup will be live on the At The Races chan­nel.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: INPHO

Ryan Moore on Yu­catan: ex­perts be­lieve the colt is Ai­dan O’Brien’s best chance to win the Mel­bourne Cup.

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