There is likely to be one New Zealand-trained horse and as many as six New Zealand-bred horses in next Tuesday's A$8million Melbourne Cup.
The most prestigious handicap race in the southern hemisphere, an event that not only stops two nations but now has worldwide interest, will this year unfortunately be played out to a crowd of next to no one.
The famous Melbourne Cup carnival will be held without crowds after the Victoria Racing Club conceded last Sunday it will not be possible to welcome spectators because of Covid-19 restrictions.
Club chairman Amanda Elliott said they had worked closely with authorities over the last few months and had tendered a comprehensive submission to the Victorian Government detailing how the VRC could safely host small crowds within government and public health guidelines.
However, the club said, it was now clear that none of this is possible.
"While we are very disappointed not to be able to welcome our members and racegoers to Cup Week, we understand the Government's commitment to keeping our community safe," Elliott said.
"We are still in discussions regarding the potential return to the track for a small number of owners, as is currently permitted in regional Victoria."
Elliott said the club would innovate to engage with absent audiences.
"What is certain is the Melbourne Cup carnival will go ahead with viewing audiences watching from across Australia and around the world," she said.
Verry Elleegant heads the Kiwi-bred assault on this year's Melbourne Cup, with the Zed mare looking to become the first horse to win the Caulfield-Melbourne Cups double in the same year since New Zealand-trained Ethereal completed the feat in 2001.
Verry Elleegant, while now in the stable of top Australian trainer Chris Waller, began her career being trained by Auckland-based Nick Bishara, who still retains a small share in the mare along with New Zealand-based Jomara Bloodstock and several Australian-based connections.
he other New Zealand-bred horses likely to gain a start this year are The Chosen One, Oceanex, Etah James, Surprise Baby and Miami Bound.
The Chosen One, by Savabeel, is the only New Zealand-trained runner in this year's field and is prepared by the Cambridge partnership of Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman.
The 5-year-old entire contested last year's Melbourne Cup where he finished a luckless ninth and has since finished second in the Sydney Cup (3200m) in April and a game third in the Caulfield Cup (2400m) two weeks ago.
He was bred by the Dennis brothers in Southland and they still retain a racing share in the horse along with a large group of others that include Cambridge's Tony Rider.
The Dennis brothers are modest men but on Tuesday they'll have reason to feel incredibly proud when their horse lines up in the Melbourne Cup again.
All based at Woodlands, Tony, Ray, Joe and Martin Dennis have developed the maternal bloodlines of The Chosen One over 70 years, producing a string of top horses in that time.
The brothers have raced horses in major Australasian races on both sides of the Tasman but The Chosen One was their first Melbourne Cup runner last year.
However, they have bred a couple of other Melbourne Cup starters, including the1990 runner-up The Phantom.
Oceanex, by Ocean Park, was bred by Tony Rider. He sold the majority interest in the horse to Australian buyers but has retained a racing share. The 5-year-old mare won the Listed Ramsden Stakes (2800m) at Flemington in May this year and finished third in last Saturday's Moonee Valley Cup (2500m).
Etah James, by Raise The Flag, beat The Chosen One home when winning this year's Sydney Cup (3200m).
The 8-year-old mare was formerly trained in New Zealand by Mark Lupton, who still retains a share in the horse with his wife. But he is now prepared by last Saturday's successful Cox Plate trainers Ciaron Maher and David Eustace and finished fourth in last Saturday's Moonee Valley Cup (2500m).
Surprise Baby, a 6-year-old by Shocking, was one of the favourites for last year's Melbourne Cup and finished a creditable fifth.
He hasn't raced since finishing ninth in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) at Flemington on October 3 but seems to race best when his races are spaced as his previous performance resulted in a close second in the Group 2 Feehan Stakes (1600m) at Moonee Valley on September 20.
Miami Bound, a 4-year-old mare by Reliable Man, rocketed into calculations for this year's Melbourne Cup with a resounding win in last Saturday's Moonee Valley Cup (2500m).
She won last season's Group 1 VRC Oaks (2500m) on the Flemington track and has avoided a rehandicap for Tuesday's big race, which means she gets in on just 51kg and this is 3kg less than she carried last Saturday.
The last VRC Oaks winner to win the Melbourne Cup as a 4-year-old was Light Fingers way back in1965, while Kingston Rule was the last horse to complete the Moonee Valery Cup-Melbourne Cup double 30 years ago in 1990.
Rosie Myers on the improve
Injured jockey Rosie Myers continues to show significant improvement from the injuries she suffered in a fall at the Foxton trials on October 6.
The popular Central Districts jockey was moved out of ICU at Wellington Hospital to Lower Hutt hospital last week where she had to facial surgery.
The 33-year-old has since started to communicate with people again and has now been transferred to a rehabilitation unit in Porirua.
Rosie's husband William Fell said that while she was "just like Rosie' the fact that her face was still swollen and sore meant that she wasn't easy to understand, however she did appear to understand what had happened.
Myers was knocked unconscious when she was dislodged from her mount soon after passing the winning post, when in front, and a following horse connected with her in the head.
Probabeel to have a spell
Quality New Zealand mare Probabeel will be coming home to take a well-earned rest after a gritty performance in last Saturday's Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) in Melbourne.
The Savabeel 4-year-old's Cox Plate bid was ultimately undone by the fickle Melbourne weather that saw the Moonee Valley track rated a Soft-7 on the day after heavy overnight rain.
Ridden close to the pace off an inside barrier draw, Probabeel struggled to make ground in the final 400m on the testing surface, eventually finishing a meritorious seventh behind eventual winner Sir Dragonet.
"She's pretty tired and knows she has had a hard run," trainer Jamie Richards said.
"We'll take it easy with her now and she will come back to New Zealand for a break and then we'll get her ready from here for an autumn campaign in Sydney."
Allpress back in winning groove
Less than nine weeks after undergoing major surgery, top jockey Lisa Allpress was back in the winner's circle at Trentham last Sunday.
The effervescent 45-year-old had a full right hip replacement in August to correct a nagging problem that caused her severe pain when trying to get on her race day mounts and when completing everyday tasks such as driving a motor vehicle.
Allpress gained a clearance from her surgeon last week and was back in action at Trentham on Sunday, where her five rides included a win aboard the Johno Benner and Hollie Wynyard-trained Crowning Star in an open 1400m contest.
"It's good to be back and it was nice to start back winning for Johno and Hollie, who I have ridden a fair bit for," Allpress said.
Allpress said the hip came through the vigours of race-riding really well but she was feeling her arms after her first ride back (Rock Affair) nearly pulled them out of their sockets.
The only disappointing factor about returning to ride at Trentham for Allpress was not having one of her mates, Rosie Myers, beside her in the jockeys' room.
"I've been in the jockeys' room with Rosie for her entire career so it was very sad and really quiet there on Sunday," Allpress said.
Emphatic win by Need I Say More
Smart 3-year-old Need I Say More has retained his position at the head of the Fixed Odds win market for next Saturday's Group 1 $500,000 New Zealand 2000 Guineas at Riccarton after his dominant all the way win in last Saturday's Group 2 Sarten Memorial Stakes (1400m) at Te Rapa.
The Australian-bred gelding is now a $3.00 favourite for the 1600m feature with Aegon on the second line of betting at $4.00 and Bourbonaire ($7.00) the only other horse at a single-figure quote.
The Jamie Richards-trained Need I Say More is raced by the Te Akau Never Say Die Syndicate, of which Waipukurau's Michael Ormsby is a shareholder in.
The horse had his doubters after he was beaten into fourth in the Group 2 Hawke's Bay Guineas (1400m) at his last start when a well-backed favourite but was caught wide from an outside draw in that race and also needed the run.
There were plenty prepared to bet against him last Saturday, with punters installing the Katrina and Simon Alexander-trained filly Tinker McPhee as favourite for the race.
Need I Say More quelled those doubts and more with a strong display that saw him lead his rivals a merry chase from barrier rise, dominating from in front to register a quick 1:22.06 for the 1400m.
Hawke's Bay Guineas runner-up Bourbonaire turned in another good effort to take second, ahead of the fast finishing Tinker McPhee, but the pair were 2-1/2 lengths adrift of the winner.
Need I Say More is by the Coolmore Stud stallion No Nay Never and was a $130,000 purchase by Te Akau principal David Ellis at last year's Karaka yearling sales. He has now won four of his five starts and $145,800 in stakemoney.