Ad Roger James and Robert Wellwood with their 2024 Lexus Melbourne Cup contender, Mark Twain. (Image: Angelique Bridson)

James and Wellwood chasing Lexus Melbourne Cup dream

5 July 2024 Written by Joshua Smith - LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

The 2024 Lexus Melbourne Cup Tour made its way to Cambridge on Monday and local trainers Roger James and Robert Wellwood got their first glimpse at the iconic trophy they hope to get their hands on at Flemington on the first Tuesday in November.

James and Wellwood have a guaranteed spot in the race that stops two nations courtesy of Mark Twain after he won the ballot-exempt Listed Lexus Roy Higgins (2600m) at the Melbourne track in March.

James has tasted plenty of success at the elite level but has had just one previous runner in the Melbourne Cup, in 2007 when Railings finished 20th in a field of 21, while his multiple Group 1 winner Silent Achiever was ruled out of the Cup at the 11th hour 11 years ago with injury.

James said the Lexus Melbourne Cup is the pinnacle in Australasian racing and he is excited to have a lightweight chance in this year's edition of the time-honoured race.

"For anyone that is involved in racing, the Melbourne Cup is the one race that stands out in Australasia," James said.

"Anybody that is not involved in racing knows about the Melbourne Cup as well. It has built a name over the years that is steeped in history and to be able to have a runner in it is a privilege." - Roger James

James has been happy with the way Mark Twain has returned from his spell and said they have time to iron out some issues with his racing manners, which were showcased in his Roy Higgins win, prior to the Cup.

Mark Twain and strapper Matthew Ivil. (Image: Angelique Bridson)

"He is in the early stages (of his preparation) but he is where we want him," James said. "He is a late-maturing horse and he is getting there and I think he will strengthen through the program.

"He has been capable of doing a bit wrong on race day, but I don't think they are problems that we can't remedy. He won't be in the same gear that he raced in that (Roy Higgins) day, but we haven't decided what he will race in yet."

Mark Twain's entire Melbourne Cup preparation will take place across the Tasman and James said a lengthy duration in Melbourne poses no concerns.

"He will probably have three, maybe four runs in the build-up (to the Melbourne Cup) and we have got the job of peaking him on his day and he should get in with a nice weight," - Roger James

"It (first run) will be in Melbourne. I think it is just too risky to stay here and there is a lot of travel involved and a lot of wet tracks.

"I just think he is better to get over there. He enjoyed the atmosphere in the stable over there once he got there in the autumn and I have no worries about having him there for a length of time."

While looking forward to having his second runner in the Melbourne Cup, James said it will be good to share the experience with his training partner.

"For somebody of his age to win a Cup it would be phenomenal," James said.

Mark Twain. (Image: Angelique Bridson)

A victory in the Melbourne Cup by Mark Twain would be fitting, having been named after the American author, who in 1895 went to Flemington and saw the three-year-old filly Auraria win the Melbourne Cup and penned the lines after the event:

"Nowhere in the world have I encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to a whole nation.

"The Melbourne Cup is Australasian National Day. I can call to mind no specialised annual day in any country whose approach fires the whole land with a conflagration of conversation and preparation and anticipation and jubilation. The Cup astonishes me."

As part of this year's Lexus Melbourne Cup Tour, the trophy is being accompanied by ambassador and three-time Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Damien Oliver.

"I was really impressed by his win in the Roy Higgins at Flemington. It looked like the second coming of Kiwi (1983 Melbourne Cup winner) launching down that straight," he said. "Even seeing him in the flesh here today, he looks great, his coat looks fantastic for the middle of winter.

"We know how good a horseman Roger is, so I am sure he is going to get the chance to show his best on the first Tuesday in November." - Damien Oliver

Having ridden Doriemus (1995), Media Puzzle (2002), and Fiorente (2013) to victory in the great race, Oliver knows what it takes to be a Melbourne Cup winner and he said Mark Twain will need to improve his racing manners ahead of November.

(L-R) Roger James, strapper Mathew Ivil, Damien Oliver and Robert Wellwood with 2024 Lexus Melbourne Cup contender Mark Twain and the iconic trophy as part of its annual tour. (Image: Angelique Bridson)

"He is going to get a pretty light weight, he has raced really well on the course, although he probably needs to get his race manners a little bit better than what he showed there (Roy Higgins)," Oliver said.

"He is a young horse and I think there is obviously improvement to come with him, but in a race like the Melbourne Cup you can't afford to do too much wrong.

"He will need to mend his ways a little bit, but he looks like he has got some raw ability there and I am sure Roger has got a bit of time up his sleeve to get the best out of him."

New Zealand has a rich history in the Melbourne Cup, with Kiwi-breds having won the race on 44 occasions, and James and Wellwood are hoping they can extend that to 45 in November.