Lexus Melbourne Cup - Five to watch

4 August 2022 Written by VRC

Every year, the Lexus Melbourne Cup attracts an eclectic group of entries from trainers and owners far and wide.

The attraction of the Lexus Melbourne Cup is that, ideally, it places every participant on a level playing field, from champion trainers and royal owners to country battlers.

There will be plenty of analysis of the 186 horses entered for this year’s $8 million contest, as always. To give you a head start, the Victoria Racing Club’s Andrew Hawkins has selected five of the most interesting nominees for the ‘the race that stops a nation’™.

Chalk Stream
Her Majesty The Queen with a Lexus Melbourne Cup runner? While that would be remarkable in Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee year, it would not be the first time that the monarch has had a starter in ‘the race that stops a nation’™.

That was in 1997, when ghostly grey Arabian Story carried the Queen’s scarlet, black and gold colours for the first time down under. Trained by Lord Huntingdon and ridden by Frankie Dettori, he made decent ground to finish sixth to Might And Power.

This year, Chalk Stream – now prepared by last year’s Cup-winning trainer Chris Waller – is entered for the Lexus Melbourne Cup. Listed-placed at Ascot last year, he was third in the appropriately named Group 3 Queen’s Cup (2400m) at Rosehill in March and Waller has suggested that his ultimate target is at Flemington on the first Tuesday in November.

It would also be fitting given Waller took Flemington favourite Nature Strip to Royal Ascot earlier this year, winning the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes

In 2009, Coolmore maestro Aidan O’Brien entered three-year-old Changingoftheguard in the Melbourne Cup after his win in the Ulster Derby (2600m) at Down Royal. Finishing second in York’s Ebor Handicap (2800m) as favourite, he finished sixth in the Group 1 English St Leger (2900m) before heading to Australia.

Purchased by clients of trainer David Hayes, he was accepted for the 2009 Melbourne Cup with jockey Glen Boss set to ride. However, he was a race morning scratching and was in his box as Shocking raced to victory.

This year, O’Brien once again has a European three-year-old entered named Changingoftheguard. This colt is better-performed than his namesake, though, having won the Group 3 Chester Vase (2400m) by almost seven lengths, finishing fifth in the Group 1 Epsom Derby (2400m) before taking out the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes (2400m) at Royal Ascot.

Should he come to Australia, he would hopefully have more luck than his predecessor.

I'm Thunderstruck
Speaking of Shocking, the 2009 winner could taste Cup success again – this time as a stallion. It is a feat that has been achieved by six past winners, most recently by 1971 victor Silver Knight when his son Black Knight took the prize in 1984.

Notably, Black Knight’s triumph came 13 years after Silver Knight’s victory and this year is 13 years since Shocking stormed clear for trainer Mark Kavanagh and jockey Corey Brown.

While four of the 186 entries this year are by Shocking, one of the most fascinating names among Tuesday’s nominations was his son I’m Thunderstruck. The winner of the Group 1 Toorak Handicap (1600m) and Golden Eagle (1500m) last year, he finished second in both the All-Star Mile (1600m) and Group 1 Doncaster Mile (1600m) earlier this year. He struggled at his only attempt at 2000m but on pedigree he should stay all day.

It is more likely that one of Shocking’s other nominees – I’m Thunderstruck’s stablemate Hezashocka, Flemington Cup 1849 winner Horrifying or Group 2 victor Nerve Not Verve – will line up on the first Tuesday in November but it would be a story for the ages should I’m Thunderstruck make it there.

Remarkably, Rich Hill Stud’s Shocking is not the Melbourne Cup winner most represented as a stallion in this year’s Lexus Melbourne Cup nominations. That status belongs to Widden Stud’s Fiorente, who has five entrants – Fearentless, Ferago, Lunar Flare, Nobel Heights and new three-year-old Skyphios.

(For breeding buffs, Galileo is the sire of the most entrants with 16 ahead of Tavistock with eight and Sea The Stars with seven. Other Melbourne Cup runners to have entrants are So You Think [four], Jakkalberry [two], Glass Harmonium, Jukebox Jury and Roman Emperor [one each], while 1994 Melbourne Cup winner Jeune is the damsire of Group 1 winner and Cup nominee Western Empire. There are 103 sires represented overall.)

Sharp 'n' Smart
While Byerley Handicap (1800m) winner Skyphios is an intriguing entrant for the young brigade, it is another three-year-old Sharp ‘n’ Smart who is perhaps the most exciting of his age group entered for the Lexus Melbourne Cup in over a decade.

A Listed winner at a mile in New Zealand, he showed so much in two starts in Queensland during the winter that many were labelling him the next big thing.

The last trainer to accept for the Melbourne Cup with a three-year-old? That would be Graeme Rogerson, who was all set to run Efficient on the quick back-up in 2006 after his pulsating Group 1 Victoria Derby (2500m) success.

While Efficient was withdrawn on the morning of the 2006 Cup, he returned in 2007 to take the biggest prize in Australian racing.

Rogerson also considered running Savabeel in the Melbourne Cup in 2004 after his star won the Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m), but he did not progress after finishing second in the Victoria Derby to Plastered.

Still, it shows that the mercurial Kiwi trainer is willing to chance his hand with a three-year-old in the Lexus Melbourne Cup and – if Sharp ‘n’ Smart were to take out the Penfolds Victoria Derby – there is every chance he will become the first three-year-old in 24 years to contest Australia’s biggest race.

Jean-Pierre Gauvin is not a trainer that many on this side of the world would recognise, but the horseman – based outside Lyon in eastern France – could be bound for Flemington with his exciting mare Iresine.

Gauvin, once described as a “modest provincial trainer”, rose to prominence by preparing rags to riches colt Saonois to take out the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club (2000m) in 2012. While he has had a couple of nice horses since, most notably multiple Group 1 placegetter Siljan’s Saga, it is Iresine who is potentially the best horse he has ever prepared.

An impressive Listed winner at 2400m last year, the gelding then took out the Group 3 La Coupe (2000m) at Longchamp last June to prove that he had that potent mix of stamina, class and brilliance that would make him such a Lexus Melbourne Cup threat.

He disappointed in two subsequent starts in 2021 but returned with a workmanlike win at Lyon before a slashing victory in the Listed Grand Prix de Lyon (2400m) to suggest that he is better than ever.

Intriguingly, too, he has been ridden at each of his wins by 23-year-old Marie Velon, with three of Velon’s four stakes wins coming aboard Iresine.

It would be quite the story should Velon make her Flemington debut in the Lexus Melbourne Cup aboard Iresine, mirroring the famous story of John Letts on Piping Lane 50 years ago this year.

Main photo credit: Iresine returns with a victory at Lyon in June