Ad Last year's winner Cascadian will be looking to go back-to-back in the TAB Australian Cup. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos)

High-raters bring buzz back to Cup

27 March 2024 Written by Racing & Sports

It’s been a long time since a TAB Australian Cup has been as highly anticipated as the edition that will be run at Flemington this Saturday.

The $3 million event will be Chapter 4 in the Mr Brightside and Pride Of Jenni rivalry, but also includes defending champion Cascadian, Champions Stakes winner Atishu and last year’s Australian Guineas heroine Legarto.

The interest in this year’s race revives memories of an era when the 2000-metre Group 1 was one of the most anticipated races of the season.

The honour roll in the decade or so after it was cemented as a weight-for-age event is as impressive as any race on the Australian calendar.

Bonecrusher, Vo Rogue (x2), Better Loosen Up, Let’s Elope, Veandercross, Durbridge, Saintly, Octagonal and Dane Ripper are among the winners from 1987 to 1998.

Northerly (2001/03) and Lonhro (2004) joined them in the Australian Cup’s final few years run on the Labour Day public holiday Monday, while Makybe Diva saw in the first ‘Super Saturday’ edition in 2005 with a 1:58.73 track record win that stands today.

Eight Hall of Famers, one of them a Legend, and two additional Horse of the Year champions are among those listed above.

But a Hall of Famer or Horse of the Year has not run in the Australian Cup since Makybe Diva, with El Segundo and Shamus Award the only Cox Plate winners to have run in an Australian Cup in that time.

Mr Brightside did all bar win last year’s Cox Plate, beaten a whisker by Romantic Warrior, and the six-time Group 1 winner brings a rating seldom seen in an Australian Cup in the post-Makybe Diva era.

Mr Brightside ran a Timeform figure of 125 in the Cox Plate, the same number he ran when winning last year’s PFD Food Services Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m).

The only horses to have run in the Australian Cup with a recent rating (less than 12 months old) greater than 125 since Makybe Diva were her fellow Melbourne Cup winners Americain (129) and Protectionist (128).

Mr Brightside heads into the Australian Cup with the benefit of three lead-ups runs; a 116 win in the C F Orr Stakes, a 122 win in the Futurity Stakes before going 123 when second in the All-Star Mile.

He was beaten in that race by Pride Of Jenni, who ran 124, a number that has a mare on the cusp of greatness.

Black Caviar (136) and Winx (134) are the benchmark mares this century, while Makybe Diva (129), Sunline (129), Atlantic Jewel (128), More Joyous (128), Verry Elleegant (127) and Miss Andretti (127) are the other high-achievers.

Miss Finland, Typhoon Tracy, Mystic Journey, Imperatriz and Jameka are among the mares who have also matched Pride Of Jenni’s mark of 124.

With Cascadian (122), Atishu (120) and Legarto (116) also engaged, along with rejuvenated 2019 Melbourne Cup winner and 2020 Australian Cup placegetter Vow And Declare (119), Flemington specialist Young Werther (120), this year’s Australian Cup could be the highest-rating edition since Lonhro won in 2004 at 128.

It is an endorsement for the change in date, with this year’s the first run on the last Saturday in March, and is easy to see why it is the most anticipated Australian Cup in almost two decades.