Could it really be this year?

The monumental racing operation, Godolphin, has spent million bringing horses to Australia to try and win the Melbourne Cup, for thus far two seconds. Hartnell told his camp yesterday he could do it from home.

The way Hartnell won yesterday's Underwood Stakes he is right in line to provide Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum's royal blue colours with success in the world's greatest staying race in four weeks.

Hartnell finished out of the first 10 in last year's Melbourne Cup, but he is a different horse now.


It was Hartnell first, the rest nowhere. James McDonald had the Sydney star beautifully placed and after taking over on the home turn, the race became a procession. Interviewer Sam Hyland, on the pony, asked McDonald on pulling up what was the secret to the huge improvement. "His attitude," said McDonald, "just look at him."

Doing just that you saw a horse who was simply loving his work. You couldn't tell he'd had a race and, in effect, he hadn't.

He had been promoted to favourite for the Melbourne Cup before yesterday's race and you can guarantee that quote will now be halved.

Trainer John O'Shea said the Melbourne Cup had not been set in concrete. "It will be up to His Highness [Sheikh Mohammed]."

Previously unbeaten New Zealander Highlad turned in a very solid effort for third in the $120,000 UCI Stakes at yesterday.

His extremely wide barrier was unhelpful, with Damien Oliver having to work High Lad for fully 400m to get him forward to sit outside the leader.

It also did not help when the leader collapsed on the home bend, leaving Highlad to try and lead down the Flemington home straight.

With Highlad not having raced for a month, he was vulnerable in terms of total fitness, as co-trainer Murray Baker voiced as the field paraded. Oliver did not punish Highlad and he held a comfortable third.

Oliver told co-trainer Murray Baker he was very pleased with the way Highlad felt. "He will improve a lot with that," Baker told the Herald from Flemington. "He will be fitter for his next race, the Caulfield Stakes in two weeks."

The race was won by a maiden, Chris Waller's Wine Bush, who completed a big weekend for his sire High Chaparral. Oliver told Murray Baker to "completely forget" about Eleonora's beaten run in yesterday's A$200,000 Edward Manifold Stakes.

Eleonora ended up three back on the rails from her handy barrier. She was travelling beautifully turning into the home straight, but the gaps did not come along in the inside.

Eventually, Oliver pulled the filly across heels of those in front, but because he'd lost so much ground he did not punish the filly.

"Damien said she felt fantastic and not to be worried," said Baker.

Eleonora will run next in the Ethereal Stakes, which will be appropriate as her grand-dam is the Caulfield and Melbourne Cup winner, Ethereal.