Caulfield Cup countdown

Held at a racecourse that could just as easily have been sold off as a graveyard, the Caulfield Cup boasts a tradition almost as old as the Melbourne Cup.

Douro Vally wins Race 5, the Yalumba Stakes at Caulfield on Saturday 11 October 2008, ridden by Jamie Winks trained by Danny O'Brien.  Photo by Bronwen Healy

Many trainers say the race is even harder to win, with the best of the middle-distance horses coming up against the hardened stayers.

Bart Cummings has won six Caulfield Cups, more than anyone else but five short of his Melbourne Cup haul.

The 2400 metres of the Caulfield Cup is 800 metres less than the famous 3200 at Flemington and sometimes a perfect lead in to the Melbourne Cup but more often than a not a coveted prize on its own.

The Caulfield Cup was first run in the autumn of 1879, 18 years after the first Melbourne Cup, at the track obtained by the fledgling Victoria Amateur Racing Club (VATC) through a Crown grant.

A racetrack had been fashioned from on the site in 1859 amid the sand hills, heath and snake-infested swamps.

The land had been little used and one of the proposed plans was to turn it into a cemetery before the race club came along.

In 1881, the Caulfield Cup was switched to the spring, cementing its place as the first of three big features of the Melbourne carnival.

It is followed by the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup with only one horse, Rising Fast in 1954, ever completing the treble.

A few months ago, Weekend Hussler’s trainer Ross McDonald was talking up plans for Australia’s Horse of the Year to aim for all three but now concedes the Melbourne Cup may be a step too far.

Weekend Hussler ran the worst race of his life in the recent Turnbull Stakes (2000m) which was his first attempt beyond 1800 metres.

McDonald reckons he has worked out why he ran so poorly and is certain he will make amends in the Caulfield Cup and then go on to the Cox Plate.

The Melbourne Cup is a different matter.

“There are a lot of things we want to do with the horse next year,” McDonald said.

“We want to take him overseas and the Melbourne Cup might take too much out of him.

“We will just wait and see.”

McDonald believes pilot error by Brad Rawiller contributed to the Hussler’s Turnbull Stakes demise and he and his jockey have analysed the performance and apparently found the solution.

But you can’t plan for everything as trainer Mark Kavanagh found out last year when he went to the races with the raging favourite for the Caulfield Cup – Maldivian.

Although Maldivian had had a few problems in the barriers in the past, they were manageable – most of the time. But the Caulfield Cup is not most of the time and as he reared up in his stall he struck a piece of television equipment that had been inadvertently left bolted to the structure.

The highly-fancied Eskimo Queen was in the stall next door and she took fright and sat down, getting caught.

A few minutes later the stunned crowd watched as the two horses were led away, Maldivian bleeding from a deep cut.

He is back this year for another try as is the man who has been to more Caulfield Cups than most and has been more successful than anyone else.

Bart Cummings has Viewed in the race and Moatize as the fourth emergency.

His winners are Galilee (1966), Big Philou (1969), Leilani (1974), Ming Dynasty (1977, 1980) and Let’s Elope who won both the 1991 Caulfield and Melbourne Cups.

The last horse to complete the double was Might And Power in 1997 but there is a strong argument to suggest Jezabeel was unlucky not to do it the following year.

Amid much controversy English horse Taufan’s Melody got into the field ahead of the local Our Unicorn.

Once there, Taufan’s Melody and his jockey Ray Cochrane made their presence felt. In his single-mindedness to win the race, Cochrane steered Taufan’s Melody on a path that held no regard for those in his way.

Jezabeel came off the worst but there was no hope of the race being taken away from the winner. Stewards did however take Cochrane’s livelihood away for a couple of months and hit him with a hefty fine.

Mad Rush from the Luca Cumani stable and Godolphin’s All The Good will represent the Europeans this time around. Cumani is eyeing a better result than 2007 when Purple Moon finished a luckless sixth to Master O’Reilly.

Damien Oliver may just provide the X-factor with the champion jockey targeting his fifth Caulfield Cup to equal the record of the late Scobie Breasley.

By Caryl Williamson