A Hartnell victory would add further lustre to the Cummings’ clan’s stunning Melbourne Cup record. Picture: AAP/Julian Smith
A Hartnell victory would add further lustre to the Cummings’ clan’s stunning Melbourne Cup record. Picture: AAP/Julian Smith

23 runners vie to create Melbourne Cup history

HISTORY and intrigue ooze from the Melbourne Cup.

Since its inception 157 years ago it has been ever thus - and will be so again on Tuesday.

Presided over by the Victoria Racing Club's first female chairwoman, Amanda Elliott, the 2017 edition has more subplots than an Agatha Christie novel.

A record-equalling 11 internationals will joust with 12 locals. At stake is the $3.6 million winners' purse and racing immortality.

A handicap designed and accordingly weighted to have the best horse crossing the line alongside the least fancied runner invariably produces large doses of the beguiling and mysterious. This year's edition is no different.

Each of the 23 runners has the potential to create history.

Nineteen jockeys will seek maiden Cup victories.

More than a dozen trainers will do the same.

No family is more synonymous with the Cup than the Cummings dynasty.

Hartnell would add further lustre to the Cummings' clan's stunning record with victory for James Cummings, a fourth-generation trainer with an unmatchable pedigree.

Now at the helm of Godolphin's Australian operation, Cummings will attempt to emulate the deeds of his great-grandfather Jim (Comic Court in 1950) and his legendary grandfather Bart (a record 12 wins).

For all its immense wealth and expertise, global superpower Godolphin sits opposite the Cummings family in terms of Cup success.

Armed with some of the finest thoroughbreds and trainers, the Blue Army has repeatedly been snubbed by the racing gods.

As exasperating as the Cup has been for Dubai royalty, leviathan Victorian owner Lloyd Williams has conversely made the race his own with a record five wins in 35 years.

The extent of the former businessman's ambitions is measured in an imposing six Cup starters, including defending champion Almandin who bids to become the fifth horse in race history to triumph in successive years.

Williams will also be represented by Johannes Vermeer, Rekindling, US Army Ranger, Bondi Beach and Gallante.

Even with such an impressive armoury, Williams does not have the honour of holding the broadest ownership interest in the race.

 

Frankie Dettori poses with Lloyd Williams on Melbourne Cup day in 2016. Picture: Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images
Frankie Dettori poses with Lloyd Williams on Melbourne Cup day in 2016. Picture: Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images

With a share in all of the Williams-owned horses except Gallante, Melbourne businessman Phil Mehrten also has shares in raiders Marmelo and Wall Of Fire.

History awaits British-trained Marmelo and Wall Of Fire. If either wins for Hughie Morrison or Hugo Palmer, England will have its first Cup winner, joining France, Japan, Ireland and Germany as northern hemisphere victors.

Ditto for Iain Jardine and his flighty raider, Nakeeta, Scotland's first entrant in the race. Ireland has more than a quarter of the field through Willie Mullins and father-son rivals Aidan and Joseph O'Brien.

Feared worldwide by bookmakers, Mullins has a reputation for expertly orchestrating huge plunges.

He has three runners, all veterans - nine-year-old Wicklow Brave and eight-year-olds Max Dynamite and Thomas Hobson.

Aidan O'Brien, author of more than 300 Group 1 spoils, has Johannes Vermeer but the reclusive Irishman won't be at Flemington.

 

His son, Joseph, will be in town as he attempts to beat his famous father to glory with US Army Ranger and Rekindling.

Australian training giant Darren Weir will seek a second Cup with Humidor, Amelie's Star and Big Duke.

His Sydney counterpart, Chris Waller, will chase his first Cup with Libran, part-owned by Elliott, as French handler Alain Couetil saddles cult horse Tiberian.

David Hayes, flanked by son Ben and nephew Tom Dabernig, is represented by the surprisingly scorned Caulfield Cup winner Boom Time and Ventura Storm.

Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott have Lexus winner Cismontane - and Waterhouse is looking for her second Cup.

 

Johannes Vermeer gallops during the Werribee International Gallops at Werribee Racecourse on November 5. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty Images
Johannes Vermeer gallops during the Werribee International Gallops at Werribee Racecourse on November 5. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

And Nick Olive and Kathy O'Hara will bid to upset them all with Single Gaze, a lightly-framed mare with a colossal heart. If O'Hara salutes, she will match Michelle Payne's groundbreaking 2015 triumph on Prince Of Penzance.

If so, Elliott's first Cup in charge will hold even more resonance and deliver another reminder of what Mark Twain wrote in 1895 during a visit.

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

"The Cup astonishes me."

More than a century later, those sentiments are just as pertinent.

leo.schlink@news.com.au



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