Racing: Mind games for great Grandera

By Mike Dillon

By MIKE DILLON

Grandera is widely regarded as the best horse in the world at Saturday's A$3 million Cox Plate distance.

But that does not automatically equate to his beating Sunline, Northerly, Lonhro and company in the Southern Hemisphere's greatest weight-for-age race.

Grandera has a Timeform rating of 127, higher than any horse who has previously raced in Australia.

If you go on looks, Grandera wins the Cox Plate by three lengths. Factor in his moodiness and that he has had to switch hemispheres for the one race and you get an evening-out effect.

Grandera is a stunning individual.

But his haughtiness comes at the price of a relatively ordinary record of wins to starts of five from 15.

Compare that to Sunline's 32 wins from 47 starts.

But the all-powerful Godolphin stable is desperate for this win.

Everyone assumed Grandera would be at the world's richest raceday, the Breeders Cup at Arlington Park in Chicago on Saturday, but Godolphin's principals, Dubai's Al Maktoum family targeted the Cox Plate.

They have even stood down their No 1 rider, Frankie Dettori from handling their team for the Breeders Cup to have him in Melbourne for the one ride.

Despite that, Australian bookmakers, and even Britain's William Hill betting agency, have at no stage had Grandera favourite, or even ahead of Sunline or Lonhro.

Yesterday William Hill had Sunline favourite at 11-4 ($3.75), Lonhro and Northerly at $4 and Grandera at $4.50.

Australian bookmakers had Sunline $4 equal favourite with Lonhro, Northerly at $4.50 and Grandera at $6.50.

Those who have seen Grandera winning the Prince Of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot by five lengths and the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown recently believe he is a class above the Cox Plate field.

Adrian Beaumont of the International Racing Bureau in England is one of them.

Yesterday he said: "I can't see any horse getting within a couple of lengths of him in the Cox Plate as long as he is in the right frame of mind."

Those last five words will determine Grandera's chance.

If a horse has a mental glitch, taking it out of its natural surroundings can sometimes trigger a negative effect.

Grandera is well travelled - this year he has been to Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, England and Ireland.

But this is the furthest he has travelled and the first time he has been outside the Northern Hemisphere.

The Godolphin stable is very pleased with Grandera since arriving in Melbourne.

Racing Victoria's general manager Mark Player said Godolphin's travelling manager Alan Byrne told him yesterday the stable was very, very hopeful.

"He's an outstanding chance, but he's struck perhaps the strongest Cox Plate field of all time," said Player.

"As a result he's going to have to put his best foot forward. If he's giving them too big a start at the 600m he won't be able to pick them up."

Byrne describes Grandera as a quirky horse with a lot of talent.

"He's like a schoolboy who likes to look out the window, but Frankie Dettori knows him well and gets on well with him."

Byrne sees as a positive rather than a negative that the tight, turning Moonee Valley track is greatly different to the wide open English tracks Grandera is used to.

"It will help keep him interested."

A lot of interest will centre on Frankie Dettori's ride on Grandera.

He is regarded by many as the world's best jockey, but some of his rides in Melbourne in the last five years have been less than spectacular.

You get the impression some of them may not have rated high on Dettori's list of priorities.

That won't happen this time.

Godolphin pays Dettori a reputed £1 million a year retainer simply to be there.

The stable wants desperately to win this race and its expectations of Dettori's performance will be in the stratosphere.

* Irish galloper Media Puzzle firmed from $35 to $9 for the Melbourne Cup after a stunning track record win the Geelong Cup yesterday. The win earned him a 1.5kg rehandicap for great Flemington race and had winning rider Damien Oliver beaming.

"That was the most impressive Melbourne Cup trial I have ever been involved in," said the champion jockey.

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