Winx is not in the field for Tuesday’s hotly anticipated Melbourne Cup – and that is great news for Hartnell.
Chris Waller’s superstar mare has been the only horse to beat Hartnell this preparation, a seriously impressive sign for owners Godolphin ahead of the race that stops a nation.
In five runs since August, Hartnell has won three races – all in outstanding fashion – and come second to Winx in the other two.
And we know that running second to Winx is nothing to be ashamed about.
As a result of a strong preparation, Hartnell enters the $6 million group 1 race at Flemington supremely fit, in form and ready to triumph.
Hartnell began his charge towards the Spring Racing Carnival with a second to Winx at Randwick in August before destroying his rivals (which included fellow Melbourne Cup runner Grand Marshal) to win the Chelmsford Stakes by nearly eight lengths.
Another big win in Sydney (this time by almost six lengths over Who Shot Thebarman) followed and Hartnell then proved he was up to the job in Melbourne, and at Flemington, with a stunning group 1 Turnbull Stakes triumph.
On that occasion, Hartnell won by 3.2 lengths with Jameka – who is one of the favourites for the Melbourne Cup – left trailing in his wake before running second to Winx in the Cox Plate on a Moonee Valley track that doesn’t really suit him.
Hartnell will appreciate a return to Flemington for the big race that begins at 3.00pm (AEDT).
Can they run the trip?
The 3200m distance of the Melbourne Cup always presents challenges and this year’s race will be no different.
Of the 24 starters, 12 are unplaced over the distance and many have never even attempted to run it.
Hartnell has won at the distance, however, claiming victory at Royal Ascot (England) in June 2014.
Subsequent starts at 3200m saw Hartnell run fourth at last year’s Sydney Cup and 15th in the 2015 edition of the Melbourne Cup – a run that needs to be forgiven.
Hartnell is a different horse this year, and jockey James McDonald is confident.
“He is a horse that jumps well and he will position very good in a race like this,” he said.
“As long as he relaxes through the mid stages, he is going to be hard to beat. The big track is key to his chances.”
While Hartnell’s case for victory is rather compelling, many other stables will feel they have the horse to win the Cup.
Another Godolphin horse in Oceanographer has been crunched in betting markets after flying late to win the Lexus Stakes on Saturday – but surely three runs in 13 days is too much.
Jameka is the only Australian horse in the race and it would be a great story if trainer Ciaron Maher can do the Caulfield Cup-Melbourne Cup double with her.
The Cups double hasn’t been done since Ethereal in 2001, and the distance is a big query.
Of the 24-horse field, nine, including Hartnell, are British, with the impressive Wicklow Brave, Big Orange and Heartbreak City considered the best of the rest.
Big Orange was fifth in last year’s Melbourne Cup but the other two have never raced in Australia.
Eleven horses in the race have featured in just one or two Australian races, making form lines hard to weigh up – but Irish horse Bondi Beach is highly thought of and has star jockey Ryan Moore on board.
Moore, who won the 2014 Melbourne Cup aboard Protectionist, won the group 1 Tenno Sho in Tokyo on Sunday with Maurice.
Like Moore, horse Qewy enters the race in good form after an all-the-way victory in the Geelong Cup and should not be discounted at big odds.
James Willoughby’s Melbourne Cup tips:
2. Wicklow Brave
Other Flemington tips:
Race 2: Model Dragon
Race 8: Jacquinot Bay
Race 10: Silent Sedition