Melbourne Cup: Trainer, horse well prepared

By Mike Hedge

Heartbreak for Ed Dunlop as Dunaden (yellow colours) noses out Red Cadeaux in last year's Melbourne Cup. Photo / Getty Images
Heartbreak for Ed Dunlop as Dunaden (yellow colours) noses out Red Cadeaux in last year's Melbourne Cup. Photo / Getty Images

English trainer Ed Dunlop wasn't certain of what he was getting into when he came to Australia with Red Cadeaux for last year's Melbourne Cup.

But he learned fast and has returned with a bigger, stronger and better horse.

Red Cadeaux came within a few millimetres of winning the race, going down to Dunaden in the closest finish in its history.

Over the past 12 months, Dunlop and the horse have put what they learned at Flemington a year ago to good use and have come to Melbourne confident they've found the missing millimetres, and a lot more.

"Coming here last year was an afterthought," Dunlop said.

"We had to put him in races that might not have been the best ones for him so he could qualify.

"It wasn't the preparation I'd have chosen, but we almost pulled it off."

This year, Red Cadeaux has been fully-qualified from the time he was entered for the Cup and Dunlop has had the luxury of being able to set the horse specifically for the race.

"Because he was in the race I was able to give him a mid-season break so we could come here with a fresh horse," Dunlop said.

"As a result we have a better horse this time than we did last time."

As well as the improvement he has been able to train into Red Cadeaux, Dunlop has the weights and measures on his side.

Red Cadeaux meets last year's winner Dunaden 2.5kg better for his narrow defeat in 2011, a figure which represents a turnaround of more than a length.

Another advantage to the English galloper is the experience gained by jockey Michael Rodd from his one-and-only ride on the horse.

"The horse has a tendency to lay in, Michael will know better this time."

On the other side of the Cup equation, Dunlop acknowledges this year's Cup resembles last year's, but it is a stronger race.

"It's a very tight-knit, high-class race this year," he said. "Dunaden and Americain are there again, but the other Europeans are very strong.

"It should be a European victory and if it's not us, I think Mount Athos stands out. He has been progressing through the ranks ... he's the horse this time.

"But we've got a good one ... a better one than last time."

Affable Italian trainer Marco Botti emerged from the shadow of his compatriot and former boss Luca Cumani some time ago. The next question is, will he surpass the veteran horseman's achievements?

Botti, who will contest the Cup with Jakkalberry, is part of the new guard of young Newmarket trainers seeking to wrest control on international racing's elite circuit.

In six years, Botti has won 250 races in Europe, the United States and Dubai, including the 2009 Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita with Gitano Hernando and the 2011 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp with Excelebration.

Last month, he won the Canadian International with Joshua Tree at Woodbine, shortly before Jakkalberry was due to start in the Caulfield Cup.

That is a race Botti prefers to forget. After his last-start win in the St Leger at Arlington, Jakkalberry struggled home 13th of 18 at Caulfield.

"Everything that could have gone wrong in the Caulfield Cup did," Botti said. "He is much better than he showed there."

Botti said Jakkalberry's performance was marred by interference and Flemington would suit him better.

He was impressed after watching the 7-year-old work at Werribee on Sunday morning. "He looks in good form, he looks well and he's keen and I'm happy with his condition," he said.

"I'm pretty sure he'll be a different horse next week. He's come out, he's bouncing and he's happy so that's all we want to see."

Botti said Jakkalberry would be "a big player" in the Cup.

The horse starts from gate 19, slightly wider than Botti wanted, but he said that would not change the pre-race plan for Colm O'Donoghue to ride him midfield and get cover.

"It's the way he's always been ridden," he said.

- AAP

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