Melbourne can fall to Freemason

Australia will join Britain in grinding to a halt in the early hours of tomorrow morning, but it will have nothing to do with floods or railways. The 140th running of the Melbourne Cup will draw around 100,000 racegoers to Flemington Park, and many millions more, from pensioners to schoolchildren, to their television sets, while back on this side of the planet, punters can look forward to the best chance of a European-trained winner since Vintage Crop broke the mould in 1994.

Australia will join Britain in grinding to a halt in the early hours of tomorrow morning, but it will have nothing to do with floods or railways. The 140th running of the Melbourne Cup will draw around 100,000 racegoers to Flemington Park, and many millions more, from pensioners to schoolchildren, to their television sets, while back on this side of the planet, punters can look forward to the best chance of a European-trained winner since Vintage Crop broke the mould in 1994.

Twenty-four runners will go to post for the Cup, among them Enzeli, the winner of the 1999 Gold Cup at Ascot, and Martin Pipe's Far Cry, who finished runner-up in the same race this year. With Arctic Owl, James Fanshawe's excellent stayer, and Lightning Arrow, who represents Godolphin, also lining up for the two-mile race, the European challenge comprises four horses who are all quoted at between 8-1 and 14-1 by the Australian bookies.

Both Enzeli and Far Cry fared well in the draw for stalls positions, with boxes six and 10 respectively, since the local lore is that low numbers are favoured. Lightning Arrow drew 14, however, while Arctic Owl ended up on the wide outside in 21, although as his trainer pointed out afterwards, Rogan Josh left the same stall in the race 12 months ago, and ran out an impressive winner.

Both Enzeli and Far Cry are quoted at 8-1 in Melbourne, while Arctic Owl is a 10-1 chance and Lightning Arrow is available at 14-1. The likely favourite for the race is Freemason, trained by John Hawkes, one of Australia's leading trainers who is still seeking his first success in his country's greatest race. Freemason was a strong-finishing fourth in the Caulfield Cup and Mackinnon Stakes, which is exactly the sort of profile Australian punters like to see in a potential Cup winner.

Freemason is expected to start at around 11-2, just ahead of Diatribe, the Caulfield Cup winner, who attempts to become the 11th horse to complete the double in the same season. Kaapstad Way, Yippyio and Bohemiath are other locally-trained horses reckoned to be in with a big chance.

Martin Pipe, who is in Australia to supervise Far Cry's preparation, seems to be enjoying the break from Towcester and Newton Abbot. "It is the first time I've travelled this far for a race and I'm very excited," he said yesterday. "I can't understand why I've never done it before. I wondered how he would handle the travelling, but we are happy with him and happy with the facilities."

Far Cry will be ridden by Kevin Darley, Britain's new champion jockey, who has never ridden in Australia before, let alone in what is often a rough race. "Kevin has had a terrific season and is coming on a real high," Pipe said. "He has ridden in Hong Kong and in plenty of tough races back home and is used to big fields."

Far Cry has the trainer and the form to go close but a place may be the best he can achieve. The best advice is to follow the money and go with Freemason, who was a 14-1 chance two weeks ago but is now the locals' solid favourite.

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