Racing: Fanshawe hopes but Sky's odds shorten

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The Independent Online
MELBOURNE CUP tradition has it that Archer, the first ever winner of the race, walked the 560 miles from his home in Nowra to Flemington before his triumph in 1861. These days, there are a few Australian trainers who would like to see runners from Europe forced to do something similar, but most of their colleagues will be pleased to see another posse of British- based horses lining up for the race that stops their nation. It does, after all, give them a rare opportunity to put one over the poms.

On recent form, certainly, the locals have little to worry about. There have been 13 British-trained runners in the race since 1993, several of them Group One winners at home, but the sole victory for a European horse remains that of Vintage Crop, trained in Ireland by Dermot Weld, six years ago.

The last seven days have hardly augured well, either. Kayf Tara, the 1998 Gold Cup winner, found that travelling to Australia for the Melbourne Cup can sometimes be the easy part. Bookmakers on both sides of the planet had made him a firm favourite for the race, but a problem with a suspensory ligament ruled him out last week. He will now return to Godolphin's base in Dubai, and may well have run his last race.

Despite the dubious portents, though, it must be said that the performance of British horses in the Melbourne Cup has improved steadily over the years. Quick Ransom and Double Trigger finished 23rd and 17th in 1994 and 1995 respectively, but Grey Shot ran 7th a year later, and Arabian Story was sixth a year after that. Then, 12 months ago, Persian Punch made it into the frame, finishing third, while three more British-based horses were fourth, fifth and seventh. One of these days, someone is going to crack it.

According to the betting, the most likely ground-breaker this year is James Fanshawe, whose Travelmate is a 9-2 chance with Ladbrokes, and not much bigger over in Australia. Travelmate was touched off by Far Cry in the Northumberland Plate earlier this year, which is run over the same two-mile trip as the Melbourne Cup.

He will go to post without his regular jockey, however, following Ray Cochrane's suspension for a minor offence at Doncaster nine days ago. In his place, David Harrison will fly in from Hong Kong to take probably the most exciting chance ride of his life. "It's very sad for Ray that he couldn't ride because he was partly responsible for me bringing Travelmate out here," Fanshawe said yesterday. "But David Harrison has won on the horse, he knows the horse and I'm very happy he's here."

The rest of the British-based challenge is quoted with the rank outsiders, with Mark Johnston's Yavana's Pace a 25-1 chance, and Godolphin's Central Park at 33-1. Central Park travelled as a galloping companion for Kayf Tara, and there is a feeling locally that he is running in the race principally because he is already there and might as well get some exercise. Yavana's Pace, though, is an interesting runner if only because Johnston, his trainer, has had a couple of previous attempts at the race, and is very much a man who learns from experience.

Arrayed against him, though, are the finest stayers in the southern hemisphere, and legends of Australian racing like Bart Cummings. Cummings saddled his first Melbourne Cup winner in 1965, and has added nine more since. His contender this year, Rogan Josh, had a typical Australian preparation with a run in Saturday's Mackinnon Stakes, just three days before the Cup itself, and shot to 5-1 in the ante-post betting after winning that contest and beating Tie The Knot, the previous ante-post favourite, in the process.

Despite that disappointing run, Tie The Knot will take his place at Flemington Park tomorrow, but the new favourite for the race is Colin Alderson's Sky Heights, who is 7-2 with both the British and local bookies. The noise will be deafening if he or Rogan Josh is in with a chance as the field turns for home. If Travelmate or Yavana's Pace could beat them, meanwhile, the silence might be deafening, too.