The European discovery of the Geelong Cup has given the international raiders a clear shot at Australia’s most famous race.
Canny Irishman Dermot Weld, who already had Vintage Crop’s 1993 Melbourne Cup on his mantelpiece, unlocked the potential of the Geelong Cup with Media Puzzle in 2002, and now the French are cashing in.
Geelong offers less than one-tenth the prizemoney of the $2.5 million Caulfield Cup but with a growing global presence it is the new form race for the Melbourne Cup run 13 days later.
On a spacious track over 2400 metres it provides the ideal environment for the growing number of international runners to adapt to the Australian racing style.
Geelong Cup winners had never been able to land the Melbourne Cup but now the Europeans are making the once impossible double look easy.
Media Puzzle was the first horse to attain the feat and French stayer Americain emulated him last year.
Now a second French galloper, Dunaden, has the double in his sights after a stunning win in this year’s Geelong Cup.
Eight Europeans have contested the Geelong Cup in five of the past 10 years and four of have won the race.
Media Puzzle was the trail blazer, the first European to run in the Geelong Cup, but only ran because Weld needed to qualify him for the Melbourne Cup.
The punt came off when the chestnut swept to a 3-1/4 length win, the biggest winning margin in 17 years, and smashed the course record.
Media Puzzle’s Melbourne Cup victory with Damien Oliver riding is now folklore but it was six years before next international, the Luca Cumani-trained Bauer competed in the Geelong Cup.
As if by design, the grey English stayer stormed to an easy 2008 Geelong win and went within a whisker of copying Media Puzzle in the Melbourne Cup, beaten in a photo finish by the Bart Cummings-trained Viewed.
In 2009 Cumani returned with Basaltico who finished seventh in the Geelong Cup just behind sixth-placed Crime Scene who was the first Geelong Cup runner for the global powerhouse Godolphin.
The Australian debut peaked Crime Scene for the Melbourne Cup and he finished second to Shocking.
Last year the Geelong Cup again proved the perfect fit for international success with the American-bred, French-trained and Australian-owned Americain, ridden by Frenchman Gerald Mosse, spearing through on the rails to win before his triumph on the big stage at Flemington.
Unbeaten on Australian soil after his Moonee Valley Cup success this spring, Americain is the Melbourne Cup favourite but his compatriot Dunaden looks set to challenge the defending champion.