Almandin chases back-to-back Melbourne Cups

AFP

Melbourne (AFP) - Former German stayer Almandin is bidding to become the fifth horse to win successive Melbourne Cups when "the race that stops a nation" is run at Flemington on Tuesday.

The 7-1 favourite, one of six horses owned by Australian Lloyd Williams will in the 3,200-metre (two-mile) iconic handicap, pipped Heartbreak City in a thrilling finish to last year's race.

Almandin, to be ridden by Italian Frankie Dettori and trained locally by Robert Hickmott, will carry 4.5 kilogrammes (10 pounds) more for last year's win.

He is bidding to emulate Archer, Rain Lover, Think Big and Makybe Diva as repeat winners in the 157th running of the Aus$6 million (US$4.6 million) Melbourne Cup.

"Almandin is in great order," said property developer Williams.

"He couldn't be any better and we are very hopeful he can get the job done. It would be wonderful to be part of history of having a back-to-back Cup winner."

Almandin will be up against a record-equalling 11 European horses in the 24-strong field intent on emulating Vintage Crop (1993), Media Puzzle (2003), Delta Blues (2006), Americain (2010) and Dunaden (2011) as overseas winners.

The 11 northern-hemisphere horses equal the record for the number of internationals contesting the handicap race that Irish champion Vintage Crop first won in 1993.

The overseas raiders' numbers were strengthened when Ireland's Thomas Hobson claimed the final place in the field.

Marmelo, trained by Hughie Morrison, is bidding to become the first English horse to win the Melbourne Cup and comes into the race with fine credentials.

- O'Brien target -

Hugh Bowman, the regular jockey of wonder mare Winx, the darling of the Australian turf with 22 consecutive wins, will ride Marmelo.

"He warrants being here," Morrison said. "He can quicken around a bend but the longer straight at Flemington will help.

"The (English) owner wanted to go for the Arc (Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe), but this is the right race."

Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien, who has set a world record this year with 27 Group 1 wins, saddles Johannes Vermeer as he chases his first Melbourne Cup after coming closest with Mahler who ran third in 2007.

"I don't see it (3,200m) being a problem," said O'Brien's stable representative TJ Comerford.

"He seems to stay well, he is a strong finisher and has plenty of speed. He is everything you want for a Melbourne Cup horse."

Top weight Hartnell, third in last year's race, carries Godolphin's hopes of ending their Melbourne Cup heartbreak.

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed's racing empire has now gone almost 20 years without tasting victory at Flemington despite three second places.

German-based Andreas Wohler, who had his greatest day in racing when Protectionist won in 2014, is back again to see if Red Cardinal can repeat the dose.

Legendary English jockey Lester Piggott has nominated French-trained Tiberian as his fancy for the Melbourne Cup.

Piggott, who turned 82 on Sunday and is in Melbourne for the race, said of the Alain Couetil-trained 25-1 shot: "He's a nice horse and moving well."

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