British trainer Mark Johnston came to Australia with such high hopes of winning the 1995 Melbourne Cup that he decided to fully savour the experience by travelling to Flemington by train and in a kilt.
The Scotsman’s horse Double Trigger, one of Europe’s best stayers, came to Melbourne on the back of a third placing in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Gai Waterhouse declared it would win by 20 lengths and he started favourite.
Double Trigger duly finished 18th and the return trip in a train full of drunks, and a kilt, was a lot less fun.
That was Johnston’s second visit to Melbourne.
His previous runner, Quick Ransom, finished 23rd and his only runner since, Yavana’s Pace in 1999, ran 12th.
Not surprisingly, Johnston has since been reluctant to pay the $100,000 or so required to ship a horse to Melbourne and run in Australia’s biggest race, so it might be assumed his runners Jukebox Jury and Fox Hunt are in with a chance on Tuesday.
But the man who learned all he knows about the Melbourne Cup the hard way, is understandably cautious.
Jukebox Jury is on the third line of Cup betting at $11 and is widely regarded, particularly among the international brigade, as the classiest of their entrants.
“He’s beaten a few of the other contenders in Group races at home and if we were running in a small field in a European Group race, I think you’d be pretty confident,” Johnston said.
“This is a very different kettle of fish though.”
Jukebox Jury comes to the Melbourne Cup as the winner of the Prix Kergorlay, one of the hottest form races in Europe in the past season.
He followed that win with a dead-heat victory in the Group One Irish St Leger, leading throughout in both races.
But Johnston knows better than to try to translate that form into Australian.
“The size of the Melbourne Cup field and the pace of the race is the problem,” he said.
“They always start fast and then slow up, which is not how we generally do it in England.”
After watching Jukebox Jury work at the Werribee training centre on Sunday, Johnston said his experience with Double Trigger would shape his instructions to his jockey Neil Callan.
“Double Trigger was used to galloping them into the ground in Europe but he couldn’t go with them to the first turn out here,” he said.
“I’m really going to have to impress on Neil just how fast they go from the gates.”
Fox Hunt is to be ridden on Tuesday by former champion Brazilian apprentice Silvestre de Sousa who is in second place on the English jockeys’ championship.
De Sousa’s decision to come to Melbourne at a time when he could be challenging for the jockey’s title might be seen as a recommendation for Fox Hunt’s prospects.
But Johnston said it was also evidence of the poor financial state of English racing.
De Sousa’s 160 wins in England have yielded around $1.14 million of which his percentage would be a tick over $100,000.
A Melbourne Cup win would earn him $360,000.
“I pointed that out to him,” Johnston said.