Australia's O'Brien may hold call in Melbourne

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The Independent Online

With the whitewash at the Breeders' Cup all too fresh in the mind it takes a leap of faith to believe that when Europe wakes tomorrow one of the three members of its expeditionary force will have wrenched the Melbourne Cup from the locals.

The Australians do not enjoy surrendering the prize, whether to raiders from New Zealand, from Japan, as last year, or from the old world, as Ireland's Dermot Weld forced them to do in 1993 and 2002 when Vintage Crop and then Media Puzzle triumphed.

This time the leading European hope is the Luca Cumani-trained Purple Moon, who was booked for a career over hurdles a year ago but demonstrated what a waste that would have been by securing Europe's richest handicap, the Ebor, at York in August.

Well treated by the handicapper and toned for the race in the traditional way with a prep in the Caulfield Cup, softer than suitable ground and a poor draw have gone against the Newmarket representative.

Kerrin McEvoy was on board that day and came in for criticism for his Caul-field Cup ride which produced a fast-finishing sixth. The stable had already stated that they were not expecting the four-year-old to win over a trip short of his best, but nevertheless, the great Australian jockey Damian Oliver takes over in the saddle now.

Tungsten Strike, trained in Sussex by Amanda Perrett, has the sort of chance suggested by his 33-1 odds, but Aidan O'Brien's Mahler, at the bottom of the weights only because the handicap was framed before his superior run in the St Leger could be taken into account, might be able to give his stable some consolation for the sadnesses they endured at Monmouth Park last month and with the mighty Yeats in this race last year.

But it might be another O'Brien, Danny, who stands in the winner's enclosure this time. He acknowledges his debt to the master of Ballydoyle who is no relation but who allowed him to observe him at work in Tipperary in 2000. Not only did Aidan let Danny spend a morning on the gallops with him, he tipped him a 10-1 winner which helped to pay for his trip. "I owe him for that," O'Brien said at Flemington this week. He saddles the favourite, Master O'Reilly, who secured his status when defeating Purple Moon in the Caulfield Cup.

Of course it would not be the Melbourne Cup if it were not described at some point as "the race that stops a nation", nor if it took place without Bart Cummings. The master trainer, who is just short of his 80th birthday, has not failed his supporters and came up with the goods at the last minute when Sirmione burst into contention for tomorrow's race when winning the Mackinnon Stakes on Saturday's Derby Day card.

Cummings has won the Cup 11 times, and although he is unsure about Sirmione's ability to last the extra distance in the big one there are some figures that should be borne in mind. Cummings has saddled 10 winners of the Mackinnon Stakes while, in the past 30 years, of the five Mackinnon winners that have gone on to win the Cup, Cummings saddled three of them, Rogan Josh, Let's Elope and Gold And Black.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Bon Viveur(Plumpton 1.30)

NB: Paddy The Optimist (Warwick 3.40)