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Can Big Orange end Britain’s Melbourne Cup near-miss run?

Trainer Michael Bell with Big Orange

Big Orange, with trainer Michael Bell, finished fifth in the 2015 Melbourne Cup

The near-miss record of horses trained in Britain when travelling Down Under to Australia’s Melbourne Cup is little short of astonishing. Perhaps fortunes can change this time.

In the 23 years since Vintage Crop made history by bringing the trophies for the ‘race that stops a nation’ back to Europe for the first time – specifically to Ireland – the Irish have gone on to win it again, and the French (twice) and the Germans have followed suit.

But, despite regular efforts by high quality runners, the challengers from Britain have not only never managed a first-place but, rubbing salt into Pommie wounds, they have finished runners-up on no less than eight occasions and third a further five times.

For the 156th staging of the two-mile, AUS $6.2m (£3.86m) handicap race, staged as always on the first Tuesday in November in the Melbourne suburb of Flemington, spirits remain high, with last year’s British-trained fifth Big Orange amongst the principal hopes.

The vibes coming from the team around him – Newmarket-based trainer Michael Bell, jockey Jamie Spencer and owners Bill and Tim Gredley – all seem strong.

This is a ‘big’ prospect in every sense. As well as his name, the form book seems to say Big Orange has an outstanding chance, and he is a powerful, giant of a horse with a long, relentless stride, seen to excellent effect in successes achieved this year in trademark front-running style at Newmarket and at Glorious Goodwood.

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Big Orange, ridden by Jamie Spencer (in yellow), won the Princess Of Wales’s Arqana Racing Club Stakes at Newmarket in July 2015

Now, 12 months after Michelle Payne earned herself an indelible place in Australia’s sporting record books by becoming the first female jockey to win ‘the Cup’ – on Prince Of Penzance – the team around Big Orange, dual winner of the Goodwood Cup, are eyeing up their own slice of history. And it too would be big.

Bell said: “Obviously, I’m very aware how hard it is to win, and how frustrating it can be, because some of my near-neighbours in Newmarket – Ed Dunlop [with Red Cadeaux, three times] and Luca Cumani [with Purple Moon and Bauer] – have tried and only been beaten into second by whiskers.

“It’s a fantastic horse-race to be involved in and we really enjoyed last year and were keen to come back.

“He’s won the same [two] races in 2016 as he did in 2015, but he was a more emphatic winner in both of them, and he’s not run since Goodwood at the end of July, so we’ve tried to leave a bit of extra petrol in the tank and he’s fresh and raring to go.”

Despite the five-year-old, a son of the stallion Duke Of Marmalade bred by part-owner Bill Gredley, running so well 12 months ago, and seemingly putting up his best ever performances during the British flat racing season, Aussie officials have allotted him just one more pound in the handicap. That said he still carries most weight of the expected 24 runners.

Additionally, Bell says the horse has taken the 39-hour journey from Newmarket to Melbourne better this time; with so many apparent positives, support for Big Orange has risen markedly.

He added: “The media interest is unlike any other horseracing event in the world. I mean the newspapers over here are absolutely full of it- front page, back page – it’s on every news channel, on the TV and there’s a huge interest surrounding the event and everyone gets slightly caught up in it.

“We were slightly under the radar last year. Red Cadeaux was running, and he was quite rightly the centre of attention, but there’s significantly more interest this year given how well he ran last year.”

Big Orange has been joined on the trip Down Under from Newmarket by four horses from Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin stable. These are Beautiful Romance and Secret Number, trained by Saeed bin Suroor, and recent Geelong Cup winner Qewy and Oceanographer, successful in Flemington’s ‘win-and-you’re-in’ Lexus Stakes, both under the care of Charlie Appleby.

Godolphin also has the favourite Hartnell, formerly part of the Mark Johnston stable in North Yorkshire, but now with John O’Shea in Australia. Jockey James McDonald, who made such an impression while based in Britain during this last summer, is due to ride.

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Hartnell, ridden by James McDonald, is the pick of Godolphin’s five runners in the Melbourne Cup

From Ireland, meanwhile, Bondi Beach, trained by Aidan O’Brien, Ebor Handicap winner Heartbreak City (Tony Martin) and the Frankie Dettori-ridden Wicklow Brave (Willie Mullins) make up a three-pronged challenge.

Having assessed the field – in which Big Orange has a favourably low draw in the barrier (stalls) at seven – Bell said: “When you come to a race like this, especially this far from home, you just want your horse to perform with credit so that you are proud of him after the race.

“I am sure he won’t let us down. It’s a tough ask to win, but he’s going to run a big, big race.”

Commentary on the Emirates Melbourne Cup will be on BBC Radio 5 Live at 04:00 GMT on Tuesday 1 November

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/horse-racing/37812755