Hong Kong’s megastar Joao Moreira heads to Melbourne on Saturday to partner the Irish trained Wicklow Brave in a cosmopolitan A$3 million Caulfield Cup (G1 – 2400 metres) to be run in the Victorian capital.
The Brazilian born jockey teams with Ireland’s Willie Mullins but victory may demand some Moreira magic, from a wide draw, as he faces stiff local competition and two seemingly better credentialled international runners in Johannes Vermeer and Marmelo.
Johannes Vermeer, in the care of the world’s leading Group 1 trainer Aidan O’Brien, was promoted to favourite for the race after drawing barrier two and following an auspicious Australian debut when runner-up to Gailo Chop in the G1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m) last Saturday.
“That’s perfect. It’s going to be a high pressure race and I’ve got the right draw,” said jockey Ben Melham who rides Johannes Vermeer.
While backing up so quickly would generally be percieved as an issue for European trained stayers, such fears have been dismissed by the stable. “Backing up quickly is only a problem if they don’t come through the first race in good order and this fellow has done everything right since last Saturday’s run,” said T.J. Comerford, O’Brien’s travelling foreman.
“He’s come through that race so well, it’s unbelievable. He’s 100 percent, like he never had a race. He’s never looked as well as he does now,” Comerford said.
Australia’s champion Group 1 jockey Hugh Bowman takes the ride on the Hughie Morrison trained Marmelo, who’s drawn gate ten, and says the Englishman’s first Australian runner will acquit himself well despite the distance being arguably short of his best.
“I’m really pleased with him,” Bowman said after riding the visitor in work on Tuesday morning, “we know he’s here for the Melbourne Cup but there’s no reason why he can’t win on Saturday if he gets the right run in transit.”
Wicklow Brave is on a return trip to Melbourne after finishing 22nd, of 24 from barrier 24, in the G1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) and better is expected this time around although Moreira’s mount fared poorly at the draw with gate 16.
“That’s disappointing,” said Mullins’ travelling foreman David Casey, “we didn’t want to draw wide like he did in last year’s Melbourne Cup. But he’s settled in well this time around. He’s in good form. He worked very well this morning (Tuesday) and I think he’s in good enough form to run well on Saturday.”
Four overseas trained horses have won the Caulfield Cup and Moreira will be hoping to emulate Hong Kong colleague Zac Purton who flew in to win the race on Japan’s Admire Rakti in 2014.
Victoria’s two leading trainers dominate the local bid. Darren Weir has fancied duo Humidor and Amelie’s Star while David Hayes, now training in partnership with his son Ben and nephew Tom Dabernig, has four runners including the import Ventura Storm who was second to champion mare Winx at his most recent run in the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m). Five of the past six locally trained winners have come via the Turnbull Stakes.
New Zealand’s Murray Baker, who won the race two years ago with Mongolian Khan, is looking for a repeat success with either of two impressive candidates in Jon Snow (gate 6) and Bonneval (gate 14) – both of whom would be aided by rain affected ground.
“He’s a very honest horse,” Baker said of Jon Snow, “and he doesn’t get too far off the pace so it’s a good draw. He’s a wet track horse and they tell me rain is coming. From barrier six he’ll be thereabouts.”
“Bonneval settles back so drawing out may not be too big a problem. I doubt there’s much between my two.”
The Caulfield track is rated good but conditions will not be clear until raceday as rain is forecast for Thursday.