Racing: Japanese raiders ready to pounce

By Mike Dillon

Christophe Soumillon aboard Melbourne entry Jaguar Mail at Sha Tin. Photo / Getty Images
Christophe Soumillon aboard Melbourne entry Jaguar Mail at Sha Tin. Photo / Getty Images

It wasn't the usual daunting thought of winning the Melbourne Cup that sent shivers down the spine of the connections of Australasia's best stayers when nominations closed on Tuesday.

It was the announcement a few days earlier that the Japanese runners were coming back to raid again.

It's been four years since Delta Blues and Pop Rock shook staying ranks to its foundation with a runaway quinella result for Japan in 2006.

It was almost a humiliation.

Equine influenza in Australia and Japan has kept the Japanese away since, but a massive amount of work by Japanese and Australian biosecurity factions this year has broken down the barriers.

Five Japanese runners were among the 253 nominations the Victoria Racing Club received on Tuesday for the A$6 million ($7.5 million) 150th running of the Melbourne Cup.

The tremors being felt by the connections from other countries is essentially because these are not just five unknowns.

Few in this part of the world knew a great deal about Delta Blues and Pop Rock before they arrived in Australia four years ago.

Partly as a result of what that pair did in showing up the Australian, New Zealand and European talent we now pay closer attention to what's happening in Japan and the likes of this year's nominees Jaguar Mail and Meiner Kitz are high-profile horses.

Victoria's leading jockey Craig Williams recently spent an extended period riding in Japan and won the group one Tenno Sho on Jaguar Mail.

Williams readily accepted the Melbourne Cup ride on the horse after that race and declared Jaguar Mail a top prospect for the big Flemington event.

Meiner Kitz won last year's Tenno Sho, a race that even Makybe Diva couldn't win.

Such is the respect for the Japanese runners that Jaguar Mail is the 16-1 equal favourite with Faint Perfume in the latest Cup market. Meiner Kitz is at 25-1, odds he shares with last year's winner Shocking, past Sydney Cup winner Jessicabeel and Profound Beauty. Monaco Consul, at 33-1, is the highest-rated of the New Zealanders.

Someone asked Bart Cummings for his thoughts on the Japanese results.

Laconic as always, Cummings said: "They say it's going to be difficult - it's always difficult."

Cummings has 12 nominations from his stable and says at this early stage he hasn't a strong fancy for one horse over the others.

"We'll keep pressing on and see how many we can get into the field."

Even though the bottom few spots in most recent years have fallen away, getting a start this year could be difficult. Everyone wants to race for A$6 million and winning the 150th running of the famous race would be something spectacular.

Irish trainer Dermot Weld, who has won the Cup with Vintage Crop and Media Puzzle, has nominated four horses, including Profound Beauty.

Her latest European form looks stronger than before her previous trip to Melbourne. Luca Cumani, desperate to win a Melbourne Cup, has five entries and Godolphin, who fit into the same category, have nine nominations.

The most keenly awaited Cup development will be the weights declaration.

Given the record of the Japanese runners four years ago, how the Australian handicapper rates Jaguar Mail and Meiner Kitz may be the winning or losing of the Cup.

MELBOURNE CUP

* The bad news for stayers in this part of the world is that Japanese runners are back after a four-year break.
* Delta Blues and Pop Rock for Japan proved a class above the 2006 Melbourne Cup opposition.
* The international nominations when entries closed on Tuesday suggest this will be the strongest Cup field in years.

- NZ Herald

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