From billionaire to battler the pursuit of the Melbourne Cup captivates them all.

The Flemington winning post is unique.

And not just because of its unusual six-panel construction.

It probably cost around $200,000 to throw up and it's the icon the entire racing world wants to get to mid-afternoon on the first Tuesday in November.

The Melbourne Cup is not simply a horse race - it's now the dream of every millionaire, billionaire and loose-change horse syndicate around the world.


You would not doubt that had you attended the international press conference at the Werribee quarantine station outside Melbourne yesterday morning.

The atmosphere gets hotter every year and no one would challenge the thought that this is the strongest Melbourne Cup anyone can remember.

Sheikhs, princes and everyone with a dream were there seeking part of that Flemington winning post just after 5pm (NZT) tomorrow.

One of the world greats, Luca Cumani, has looked just a little tighter around the eyes each of the seven years he has returned to an Australian spring to try and win the Melbourne Cup.

Cumani stared into a strong morning sun and in those ruggedly handsome Italian features you could see the Melbourne Cup in the mix.

"I won't stop coming back until I've won this race," he said quietly.

He said the same last year and in 2010 and you never once doubtedit.

English trainer Ed Dunlop summed up his similar feelings. One thing he doesn't want to recall is when he discovered that Red Cadeaux had lost last year's Melbourne Cup to Dunaden in the closest finish in Cup history.

"I'll tell you how big the Melbourne Cup has become worldwide - when we left here last year we went to Japan. My great mare Snow Fairy had won a group one there and next start won another one in Hong Kong.

"We got more credit for nearly winning the Melbourne Cup than for winning two group ones in two of the toughest arenas: Japan and Hong Kong."

Finally, he managed a laugh about last year's result. "I watched the race with Luca [Cumani]. When they went over the line Luca hugged me and kissed me - well he nearly kissed me.

"I wasn't sure I'd won, but I thought a deadheat would be the next best thing. Three minutes later they told us we'd been beaten."

Later Dunlop said he would rather be kissed by Cumani than experience the feeling of losing a Melbourne Cup by a nose.

Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, owner of last year's winner Dunaden, plonked his smiling self down with a glass of orange juice and said he couldn't wait for the Cup to be run again.

The Qatar oil gazzillionaire, still in his early 20s, claimed it was getting impossible to still buy cheaply the European horses capable of winning a Melbourne Cup.

"I bought one last year and I believe he can win next year's Cup, but I'm keeping his name to myself," he smiled.

"But I tried to buy a similar horse again the other day and couldn't afford him."

You can take it that when the sheikh can't afford them you and I don't have much of a gasp.

Dr Koukash, owner of the second favourite, the Luca Cumani-trained Mount Athos, is something of a mystery man.

He lives in Chester in England and his nationality has never been declared, although he is thought to be from Kuwait.

The Doc has similarly never declared his type of business. He has 100 horses in work in England so you assume it's not a bad one.

Outside of that he has one of the most delightfully generous natures imaginable.

He fell in love with the Melbourne Cup three years ago when he brought his first horse Munsef Downunder and he finished mid-field.

"Then I started what I have called my nightmare - finding a horse good enough to win a Melbourne Cup. I think I finally have him."

So does Cumani, but he's desperate for the thunderstorms and rain predicted for tomorrow to stay away.

"I'm doing a sun dance - we don't want rain," he said.

The connections of 2010 winner Americain do. Americain can handle any type of footing, but he finds three or four more lengths in the wet.

Punters have rallied strongly around Americain since French jockey Gerald Mosse was sacked after a poor ride in the Caulfield Cup. Americain's price has shortened in from $9 to $5 favourite.

The lure of the Melbourne Cup has played havoc with Dunaden's trainer Mikel Delzengeles.

The rugby-fanatic Frenchman hasn't had time to check the international footy scores much less watch a game.

Late last week, he flew from Paris to Melbourne to witness Dunaden's final Cup gallop then hours later flew to Los Angeles where over the weekend he won the rich Breeders Cup Fillies' Juvenile Turf with Flotilla.

"That's a good prelude for Australia," the 41-year-old was quoted as saying as he boarded his flight to Melbourne yesterday.

Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed can't win a Melbourne Cup, despite 1000-plus horses in work and breeding and purchasing powers that stagger most.

For as much as the Melbourne Cup dream might encompass all, luck is, and will always be, the dominating factor.

Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, for all his money, found Dunaden as a cheap A$100,000 purchase while running around a German paddock with a bunch of greyhounds.

Then there is attention to detail. Mikel Delzangles says his round trip to Australia and then to Los Angeles was to "check on a couple of small things".

Last year's Cup finish proved the point that even something as small as one of "those things" could make the difference for the A$3.6 million winner's chances.

Market: $5 Americain, $6.50 Dunaden, $7 Mount Athos, $10 Red Cadeaux, $11 Maluckyday, $15 Ethiopia, $17 Green Moon, $21 Galileo's Choice, My Quest For Peace; $26 Fiorente, Mourayan; $34 Glencadam Gold, Lights Of Heaven, Zabeelionaire, Kelinni; $41 Cavalryman, Tace de Boistron; $67 Jakkalberry, Niwot; $151 Precedence, $201 Voila Ici, $301 Unusual Suspect.