Racing: Big Orange heads invaders

By Mike Dillon

Big Orange (R, yellow). Photo / Getty Images
Big Orange (R, yellow). Photo / Getty Images

It's time to get serious - we are only 35 days away from the A$6.5 million Emirates Melbourne Cup.

The Poms are getting excited, as well they might.

Since mercurial Irishman Dermot Weld created history by winning the 1993 Cup with Vintage Crop, the international Melbourne Cup winning record is Ireland and France two each and Germany and Japan one apiece.

In the past 17 years English horses, with the greatest number of international runners, have finished a frustrating eight seconds.

This time the great Union Jack hope is Big Orange, equal favourite at $15 and he has the right credentials. Probably the most important of those credentials is that he ran in last year's Melbourne Cup, handled the long trip well and did not turn a hair during the half-hour claustrophobic pre-race birdcage parade with 100,000 noisy, sauced-up racegoers packed around.

European horses are not used to such carry-on and it has torpedoed more than a few.

Big Orange led up last year and fought bravely for fifth, a touch over two lengths from the winner, Prince Of Penzance.

Significantly, his lead-up form this time looks better on paper than 2015. He has run and won the same races, but his margins have been greater.

Given a break after last year's Cup, he resumed with a close second to French runner Vazirabad in the 3200m Dubai Gold Cup in March, run in a fast 3:19.56.

On unsuitable soft footing, he came out next to finish third in the group two Jockey Club Stakes (2400m) at Newmarket.

He took a short break and came back with James McDonald in the saddle for victory in the group two Princess Of Wales Stakes (2400m) at Newmarket then, with regular jockey Jamie Spencer aboard, easily took the Goodwood Cup (3200m).

Typical of the way Europeans train their horses, Big Orange will go into the Cup with just those four runs in 12 months.

A son of Duke Of Marmalade, Big Orange is owned by studmaster Bill Gredley and his son Tim, 13 times a member of the British equestrian team and individually the winner of the 2008 Geneva Grand Prix in Switzerland.

Big Orange carried 55.5kg in last year's Cup and this time has 56kg, a lenient assessment given his subsequent form.

The English stayer is trained by Michael Bell who says: "I am very happy with his well being as we gear up for the Emirates Melbourne Cup. He has not run since July because he was being readied for the Irish St Leger until we decided to give that race a swerve owing to soft ground.

"I am very happy with the weight that he has been allocated as I think that he has improved since 2015.

"Last year was a very good reconnaissance trip - he ran an outstanding race and I'm really looking forward to taking him out there again. We learned that he handled the travelling well and he also handled the Bondi Beach race day well.

"Representing Britain in a race like this is an honour - it really feels as if you are flying the flag for the whole nation."

Big Orange is due to enter quarantine on Thursday and be flown to Australia two weeks later.

As you would expect, right on Big Orange's heels are the Irish. Equal favourite at $15 is the Aidan O'Brien-trained Bondi Beach, part owned by Australian Lloyd Williams, who would like to make the Melbourne Cup a race just for him and hasn't done a bad job of that.

Then there is Wicklow Brave, trained in Ireland by Willie Mullens and winner of the Irish St Leger on September 11.

The fourth joint favourite is 4-year-old Australian-bred mare Jameka, runner up to Tavago in the Australian Derby and last-start winner of the Naturalism Stakes.

- NZ Herald

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