Hussler takes the plunge in the Caulfield Cup

Horse of the Year Weekend Hussler has been the subject of a massive plunge in Saturday’s $2.5 million Caulfield Cup.

Weekend Hussler (red and black, white cap) winning the G1 Newmarket Handicap, at Flemington on Saturday 8 March 2008, ridden by Brad Rawiller, trained by Ross McDonald.  Photo by Bronwen Healy

After losing favouritism for the first leg of Melbourne’s major spring treble when he ran the worst race of his career last time out, Weekend Hussler has regained it under a flood of money from around the country.

Weekend Hussler is in from $6.50 to $5.50 equal favouritism with TAB Sportsbet despite a less than favourable barrier draw in 11.

Rival firm Betstar had trimmed the gelding into outright favouritism at $5 after being swamped by interstate clients and punters at today’s Caulfield race meeting.

Betstar’s Alan Eskander said the money for Weekend Hussler had flowed in all day.

"We haven’t stopped taking bets on him, plenty of six-figure bets," Eskander said.

At the barrier draw, trainer Ross McDonald promised a new approach to Saturday’s Group One feature after Weekend Hussler was dictated to by rival jockeys in his defeat in the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington earlier this month.

The trainer said jockey Brad Rawiller would go into Saturday’s race with a new mindset and more positive tactics.

Weekend Hussler had to race deep in the Turnbull when other jockeys held their ground and refused to allow him into the two-wide lane.

But McDonald said a more ruthless attitude would be on display in the Cup.

"We just made a blue at Flemington, Brad was a bit nice to the others," he said.

"On Saturday, he won’t be nice to anyone."

Equal favourite with TAB Sportsbet is Littorio, who drew alongside Weekend Hussler in 10.

Trainer Nigel Blackiston said the draw was exactly what he wanted.

"He can balance up from there and we’ve got a few more choices than if we were inside," Blackiston said.

The gelding remained a $5.50 chance after what leading bookmaker Alan Eskander described as an "unremarkable" barrier draw.

Littorio has only a moderate record at Caulfield, but Blackiston said his lack of success at the track was irrelevant.

"He’s never been in a race that was over his right distance here before," he said.

"On Saturday he’s in the right race."

Littorio scored a slashing win in the Turnbull, having flashed home over 1800m for third to Weekend Hussler in the Underwood Stakes at Caulfield before that.

Like McDonald, Blackiston believes his horse has improved since his last start.

"He’s a fitter, better horse for his last run," Blackiston said.

"I’m not worried about that at all."

The inside gate in the Cup went to New Zealander Red Ruler with the first emergency Barbaricus drawing the outside gate in the field of 18 plus four emergencies.

For trainer Mark Kavanagh, the draw provided him with his second barrier disaster in as many years.

Kavanagh’s runner Maldivian drew barrier 18 having last year suffered an injury in the gates when a short-priced favourite.

"You can’t do anything about it," Kavanagh said.

"The horse is going as good as he has gone this time in, we’ll just have to see."

While the barrier draw is regarded as more vital in the Caulfield Cup than in most races, the statistics serve only to confuse.

The most successful barrier has been number nine, the gate drawn on Saturday by Riva San.

But barrier 17 has provided seven winners and barrier one only two.

Among the better-fancied runners to draw favourably was last week’s Yalumba Stakes winner Douro Valley who will start from three.

Douro Valley was runner-up in the race last year behind his stablemate Master O’Reilly who will jump from 13.

The luck of the draw was also mixed for trainer David Hayes who will have three runners.

The best chance on paper, Guillotine, drew worst in 21 with Kibbutz in five and Zagreb in seven.

Hayes said he was now inclined to lean towards Zagreb.
By Mike Hedge