MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Irish trained five-year-old Yucatan will likely start favorite in Australia's Melbourne Cup, expected to be run on a soft track at Flemington racecourse.
Trained at Tipperary by regular Cup campaigner Aidan O'Brien, Yucatan became favorite for the 158th running of the two-mile handicap on Tuesday when he easily won the Herbert Power Handicap over 1 + miles at his last start.
Yucatan, by the Irish sire Galileo out of the French mare Six Perfections, leads a strong foreign challenge for the 2018 Cup in which 11 of 24 runners are from the northern hemisphere. While foreign-trained, Yucatan is the property of a five-time Cup-winning owner, Australian Lloyd Williams.
O'Brien, who has yet to win the Melbourne Cup, had to settle for second place last year with Johannes Vermeer finishing behind Rekindling, trained by his son, Joseph. He has three runners in the 7.3 million Australian dollars ($5.3 million) race this year; Yucatan is joined by its stablemates Rostropovich and Cliff of Moher.
Australia's main hope in the event, known as ''the race that stops a nation,'' may be the lightly-weighted four-year-old mare Youngstar, which comes from the Sydney stables of Chris Waller, trainer of the history-making mare Winx which is unbeaten at its last 29 starts. Yucatan was quoted by bookmakers around 6-1 while Youngstar was at 15-1 on early markets Monday.
However, rain may have an influence on the race which has been held at Flemington since 1861. So important did the race become that Melbourne Cup Day has been a public holiday in Victoria state since 1877.
Showers Monday and forecast rain on Tuesday morning will likely result in a soft track which is not ideal for Yucatan.
''He loves fast ground,'' O'Brien said, ''the better the ground, the better his chances.''
Foreign horses have won several of the key leadup races to this year. Topweight Best Solution, from the Godolphin stable of Saeed Bin Suroor, posted his third consecutive Group One victory in the Caulfield Cup over 1 + miles. The Melbourne Cup is one of the few trophies in world racing which has eluded its owner Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
British-trained Magic Circle, a stayer which has won its last two starts by a combined margin of 12 lengths, has been well-backed at 9-1 and is a two-mile specialist but will be having its first start since May.
Magic Cirle was a nine-lengths winner over Prince of Arran which won another important leadup race, the Hotham Handicap, on Saturday. Its owner, Dr. Marwan Koukash, who is known for flamboyant victory celebrations, has reportedly promised to strip in front on an expected crowd of around 100,000 if his horse wins.
Other British chances include Muntahaa, quoted at 11-1 on Monday, and Marmelo, at 15-1, which will be ridden by Winx's regular rider Hugh Bowman. Cross Counter, trained by Charlie Appleby and quoted at 10-1, gets in at a light weight but will be having only its eighth start.
Japan's main hope is Chestnut Coat, trained by Yoshito Yahagi.
History shows that betting markets may not be the best guide; only eight favorites have won the race in the last 30 years and nine of the past 12 winners have been at better than 10-1.