Racing: Godolphin rely on Faithful

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IN THE euphoria which followed Vintage's Crop's victory for Ireland in the 1993 Melbourne Cup, when normally insular British trainers were suddenly proud to call themselves Europeans, it seemed like only the beginning. There were bold predictions that the most important race in the southern hemisphere would become a regular and realistic target for horses from our half of the planet. The unspoken implication was that Australian racing had more money than talent.

The reality, of course, has proved rather different. Some fine horses - Quick Ransom, Double Trigger and Oscar Schindler among them - have headed south in the four years since, but not one of them has managed even to reach the frame. Harbour Dues' fourth place for Lady Herries a year ago is the best a British yard can offer, and some trainers may have started to wonder whether the Melbourne Cup is not simply too far away, too expensive - and too much of an embarrassment.

If anyone can do it, though, it is probably Godolphin, who have spent the last five years turning accepted wisdom into old wives' tales. What they have yet to do is send a runner to Flemington Park on the first Tuesday in November, but when the weights for this year's Melbourne Cup were published yesterday, the top end of the handicap read like a statement of intent.

No fewer than five of the first seven names belonged to horses prepared by Godolphin, among them Swain, Predappio and Stowaway. The one possible runner among their entry, though, is Faithful Son, the Eclipse Stakes runner-up, who will leave Britain later this month to prepare for what could be the most lucrative 17 days of his life.

The first stop will be the Caulfield Cup, Australia's premier weight- for-age middle distance race, over 12 furlongs on October 17. Since Faithful Son has no form over the two-mile trip of the Melbourne Cup, he must finish in the first five in the Caulfield Cup if he is to be allowed to take his place in the big handicap, for which he has been allotted a weight of 58kg (9st 2lb), a little over two weeks later. The rules are strict, but as Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, pointed out yesterday, ``if he doesn't come in the first five there, he doesn't deserve to run in the Melbourne Cup anyway.''

Should he make it all the way to the main event on 3 November, Faithful Son will be Godolphin's first runner in the race. ``This is not the first time that we've thought about it,'' Crisford says, ``but it's the first time we've really planned for it. It's not a question of finding a horse for the race, it's about finding a race for the horses, and the Caulfield Cup is the big target for him, and if he runs a big race there, the Melbourne Cup comes next.

``Obviously there are many factors against us, but our horse is a class act. He's got good acceleration, travels well in his races, goes on any ground and is an older, tough horse who's had a nice bit of racing and strikes us as being the ideal candidate.''

Other possible runners from Britain include Persian Punch and Grey Shot, who finished seventh in the race in 1996. ``I don't want to make a knee- jerk reaction,'' Jeff Smith, who owns both, said yesterday, ``but I would probably be tempted to run both.'' James Fanshawe may send Arctic Owl, a recent Group winner in France.

A more realistic assessment, though, may be that of Michael Eskander, a Melbourne bookmaker. He makes The Hind, the Adelaide Cup winner, his 10-1 favourite. Persian Punch, on the other hand, is the lowest-priced British contender - at 25-1.