Mark Du Plessis has a Melbourne Cup mount in his sights.
The Karaka-based jockey will partner Taranaki stayer Pentathlon in the A$300,000 Lexus Stakes (2500m) at Flemington on Saturday and will keep the mount if the horse makes the field for the A$6 million Melbourne Cup three days later.
The Melbourne Cup is limited to 24 runners and Pentathlon was 26th in the order of entry after the second acceptances were taken on Monday.
However, there are at least a couple of runners ahead of him in the entry order who are not yet confirmed runners and Pentathlon could also seal a start by winning the group three Lexus. The Lexus winner is exempt from the Melbourne Cup ballot.
Pentathlon is the only New Zealand-trained galloper still in contention for Australia's most famous race and NZ-bred candidates are also thin on the ground.
The only New Zealand-bred galloper who is assured of a start is eight-year-old Who Shot Thebarman.
Of the top 24 in the order of entry, 19 were bred in the northern hemisphere and eight are trained there.
Melbourne Cup mounts have become rare gems for New Zealand jockeys and Du Plessis was the last New Zealand-based jockey to ride in the race, when he was unplaced on Red Ruler in 2010.
Du Plessis, who rode successfully in Japan over the New Zealand winter, has had three Cup mounts. His first was for famed trainer Bart Cummings, on Strasbourg, who ran 10th in 2004 and he was unplaced on Spin Around in 2009. "Any Melbourne Cup ride is a very special time in your life as a jockey," Du Plessis said. "It's always a huge boost.
"I'm just honoured that John [trainer John Wheeler] decided to put me on Pentathlon. There are always plenty of options."
Du Plessis will be riding Pentathlon for the first time on Saturday but has often ridden for Wheeler and his first win in Australia came on the Wheeler-trained Rokocoko, in 2007.
Du Plessis is also a genuine lightweight and will have little trouble riding Pentathlon at his cup weight of 51.5kg.
A number of lightweight Australian jockeys had been available to partner Pentathlon but Wheeler had no qualms about plumping for Du Plessis.
"He's a true international rider and is not going to be overawed by the occasion," Wheeler said.
Pentathlon is at $41 with the New Zealand TAB for the Melbourne Cup but is a proven stayer and appears to be peaking at the right time, after finishing third in the Moonee Valley Cup (2500m) last Saturday.
"It was a very good run at the weekend and I've been really happy with him all the way through," Wheeler said. "He's going to be bang on for the Lexus and the Cup.
"I had been in two minds about running him in the Lexus but the decision was made for me once he was outside the top 24 for the Cup.
"He should go close to winning the Lexus and he would need to run in the first three to rate a Melbourne Cup chance."
Five-year-old Pentathlon has had only 24 starts and has rarely failed over ground, with his 13 starts at 1800m or further producing five wins and five placings. He ran second, beaten a nose, in the Wellington Cup in January, and should have won, and finished fourth in the Auckland Cup.
He has also proved he can back up well, winning twice over 2500m, and just three days apart, at the 2015 New Zealand Cup meeting. "You try those sorts of things early on, for future reference," Wheeler said.
"He's a good horse. He might lack the X-factor but he could easily be very competitive in a Melbourne Cup with the right run."
Wheeler has won 19 group one races in Australia and prepared Veandercross to run second in the 1992 Melbourne Cup.
- NZ Racing Desk