Irish connections reveal final thoughts ahead of Melbourne Cup bid
Joseph O'Brien announced himself as a trainer on the global stage two years ago when Rekindling landed the Lexus Melbourne Cup and the 26-year-old is back in Flemington bidding for further glory in the early hours of Tuesday morning (4am).
Fresh from his maiden Breeders' Cup success as a trainer on Saturday night with Iridessa, the Kilkenny trainer saddles one sixth of the field in "the race that stops a nation".
Three of his contenders are owned by Lloyd Williams – the Hall of Fame owner with six Melbourne Cup victories – and his quartet of runners are all intriguing in their own way.
Frankie Dettori is without a win in the €5million Australian showpiece despite numerous attempts and rides Master Of Reality while James McDonald is aboard 2018 Irish Derby hero Latrobe.
Hugh Bowman takes the mount on Twilight Payment – recently purchased from Jim Bolger – while Cork jockey Johnny Allen gets his first Cup ride aboard Downdraft having switched his attention from the jumps to the flat in recent seasons.
Downdraft secured his spot with an impressive Hotham Stakes victory on Saturday and while he only has a three-day turnaround, two horses have followed up successfully in the Melbourne Cup since the turn of the millennium.
"Master Of Reality is in good shape and his preparation has gone well. He has what seems a good draw (stall one) but we wanted to be wide with him as he needs a bit of room to get into his rhythm," O'Brien said.
"We had to run Downdraft on Saturday to confirm his place but running three days before this is not ideal and he has a high draw (stall 15).
"Latrobe’s preparation has gone to plan but it might be tough from stall 22, while Twilight Payment has been training well and was not suited by a messy race at the Curragh last time."
His father Aidan has landed the majority of the world's leading flat prizes with the Melbourne Cup a rare omission from his glittering CV and the Ballydoyle maestro bids to rectify that with three chances.
Ryan Moore rides the consistent Magic Wand, Seamie Heffernan partners recent Moonee Valley Gold Cup winner Hunting Horn and Wayne Lordan, fresh from Breeders' Cup success, rides Il Paradiso.
O'Brien has swerved the trip Down Under once again but TJ Comerford, his travelling head groom, is hopeful that the trio can leave their mark on the stamina-sapping 2m test.
"Magic Wand is one of the classiest horses we’ve brought here and could be quite well handicapped. The draw (stall 24) isn't too much of an issue but the question mark is the trip," Comerford said.
"Hunting Horn looks fantastic. He has to prove his stamina but the big field and galloping nature of the track could suit him. Il Paradiso has worked really well in blinkers and fits the recent trends. He’s off a really nice weight."
As well as the seven Irish contenders in the 24-runner field, last year's winner Cross Counter (Charlie Appleby), 2018 runner-up Prince Of Arran (Charlie Fellowes) and Richard Hannon's Raymond Tusk represent a small but select English challenge.
There will also be some familiar names to Irish racing fans with Constantinople, Southern France and Rostropovich trained in the past by Aidan O'Brien while Mustajeer left Ger Lyons after landing the Ebor and is a live contender for new connections.