2015 Emirates Melbourne Cup (G1) - Fame Game No. 1 pick in field of 24
Tuesday, Nov. 3 marks the 155th running of Australia’s most coveted race – the Melbourne Cup. And, for the second year in row, Japanese horsemen are fielding a headliner in the 3,200-meter G1 at Flemington Racecourse. The field was finalized on Saturday and boasts 24 runners. Fame Game, who rocketed down the stretch in the Caulfield Cup after sitting between horses in the far back until the final 400 meters, finished in sixth place in the Caulfield preliminary but grabbed the attention of racing fans the world over. The 5-year-old son of Heart’s Cry is now pegged as the horse most likely to win “the race that stops a nation.”
Australia should well prepare to see the handicap’s bounty of A$6.2 million (about US$4.4 mil.) leave the shores, with not only raider Fame Game, but a wave of strong internationally based horses in the field. Japan is hoping for its second win of the iconic race following the Japanese one-two by Delta Blues and Pop Rock in 2006.
Fame Game’s chances of clinching the first-place bounty improved dramatically when Caulfield Cup winner, New Zealand’s Mongolian Khan, was withdrawn on Friday due to colic. Fame Game, who will run under the No. 3 saddlecloth, drew an ideal 12th gate, and Japan’s other runner, Hokko Brave, runs under No. 7. Hokko Brave has unfortunately drawn even wider than he had for the Caulfield Cup. He will break from the No. 20 gate.
The draw is auspicious for Fame Game, with statistics indicating that the middle barriers are the best from which to win the Melbourne Cup. In the 57 years since barrier draws were begun in 1958, 23 winners have come from barriers 9-16. The inside and outside have each yielded 17 winners. In the last 14 years, however, the outside barriers have been most unlucky. Nine winners have come from the middle, four from the inside.
Fame Game’s trainer, the Miho-based Yoshitada Munakata, was very pleased with the barrier draw on Saturday, Oct. 31 and called it an honor to be fielding the favorite in the famed event.
"Hopefully he can run up to everyone's expectations," Munakata said. "Of course there's a lot of pressure but our expectations and hope are bigger than the pressure.”
Munakata said there would be no major changes from the tactics used in the Caulfield Cup, tactics that resulted in both he and Purton being interrogated post-race.
"He will be ridden similarly in between horses but hopefully he can settle closer, maybe midfield, because the race is over more distance." And comparing Sunday’s race to the Caulfield Cup, he said, "He's definitely better suited over the extra distance of the Melbourne Cup.
Fame Game, out of the Allez Milord mare Hall of Fame, is currently five for 16, with two wins at the graded-stakes level since last November. He has yet to win at the top level, but has had few opportunities for the distance he enjoys. His recent wins have come at distances of from 2,500 meters to 3,400. Slow starts were more often the norm for Fame Game through late spring of last year, but in his seven starts hence he has missed the break only once.
Assistant trainer Masato Tamaya believes that Fame Game has improved since his Caulfield Cup run and has recovered in fine style.
“The best thing is his action,” Tamaya said. “Usually he gets a bit stiff and tired after a race but he wasn’t even tired after the Caulfield Cup run. His action is really nice and smooth.”
Tamaya commented on the racing strategy that drew fire last out and claimed that that was par for the course for the 5-year-old. “If he is midfield, he goes through the field. That’s how he races. He’s not a sweeper.”
Tamaya said they were “surprised at the odds but at the same time the odds have nothing to do with the racing. We have to leave it up to the jockey and the horse at the end of the day.”
On Saturday, Oct. 31, Fame Game was given his final bit of fast work. He galloped solo on the grass and clocked 67.8 seconds over 5 furlongs. He covered the final 3 furlongs in 38 seconds and the last lap in 12.8. “He has sharpened up with his last race,” said Munakata “And his weight is down about 5 kg from then. He looks much more toned.”
Munakata said the Caulfield Cup “was a disappointment, but I have my hopes up with the extra distance and the change to a more wide-open track.”
Hokko Brave is trained by Yasutoshi Matsunaga and is out of the Dancing Brave mare Hokko Memory. With five wins, five seconds and five thirds, Hokko Brave had proved himself a consistent runner before making the step up to the graded level. In his past ten starts, all at the G2 or G1 level, Hokko Brave has made the top three spots three times, with two thirds and a second. Hokko Brave took on the Oct. 17 Caulfield Cup over 2,400 meters as his first race in over five months. He finished in 10th place nearly 5 lengths off the winner in a field of 18. Hokko Brave is not favored to win the Melbourne Cup, which is not considered to be at his best distance. Predominately raced at 2,500 meters and under, Hokko Brave did, however, finish third in the 2014 spring version of the 3,200-meter Tenno Sho at Kyoto. This year he finished in sixth place in the same race, about 2 lengths off the winner. He will have a veteran in the saddle, Australian native Craig Williams.
Williams rode Hokko Brave for work on Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Werribee track where the horse is being stalled. It was the first time in the saddle for the jockey since the Caulfield Cup. "I'm getting to know Hokko Brave really well so I'll get another assessment on him as he gets towards the peak," Williams was reported as saying. “It is important that he keeps climbing those steps up, not down."
Williams said the horse had been full of himself when warming up but "when I asked him to do his work he was quite one-paced and didn't respond to my riding straight away.
"After the winning post I went to ease him down and then he started to quicken up. When I explained that to the handlers, they explained they have been getting him to run down the side straight."
On Friday, Hokko Brave had his final strong gallop before the big event. Matsunaga said, “We didn’t take an exact reading of his time as we were mainly interested in his responses in the finish. But, his movement and overall feeling were very good. He’s in the same kind of shape he was for last year’s spring Tenno Sho and the vet also gave his condition high marks.”
The rain in the forecast gave rise to some concern. “Brave is not bad over slow going,” Matsunaga said. “But, there are a lot of horses running from Europe and softer going will surely suit them more.”
Fame Game ran the Caulfield Cup under 57 kg, Hokko Brave under 55.5 kg. Their weights will remain the same for the Melbourne Cup. Snow Sky has been asked to shoulder the heaviest weight of the field, 58 kg, half a kilogram less than Admire Rakti carried last year. The lightest weight in the field is 51 kg and will be on Excess Knowledge and Gust of Wind.
Odds on Fame Game are down as low as 3.5 to 1 with Ed Dunlop’s Trip to Paris and the Chris Waller Preferment tied for second pick at 9 to 1. Hokko Brave is about ninth pick with odds of about 19 to 1.
Trip to Paris, with Tommy Berry up, is considered by many to be Britain’s best stayer. His victories include the G1 Ascot Gold Cup over 4,023 meters. He also ran third in the G2 Goodwood Cup and was second last out in the Caulfield Cup. Dunlop has finished Melbourne Cup runnerup three times with Red Cadeaux and has what may be his best chance yet on his sixth crack.
Preferment showed his preference for longer distances in winning the G1 Victorian Derby over 2,500 meters last year. He has two wins from the spring campaign, including the G1 Turnbull Stakes at Flemington and has drawn the No. 9 gate, which has proven the most successful in Cup history.
Other horses favored to perform well are the middle-distance galloper Criterion, whose Cox Plate performance gave his trainer the conviction to push on to the Melbourne Cup. The American-bred Almoonqith began his career in France, then went to Dubai before joining the Australian stable of Hayes & Dabernig in August of this year. He stepped into the Melbourne spotlight when he won the 2,400-meter Geelong Cup with ease and looks to be hitting his stride. He will be paired with Dwayne Dunn and running under 53 kg.
Max Dynamite is a talented stayer that is returning from the hurdles to the flat. His recent 4 1/2-length win of the 3,300-meter Lonsdale Cup over Trip to Paris is what got the nod for the Cup from Irish jumps trainer William Mullins. Max Dynamite will be partnered with Lanfranco Dettori. Who Shot Thebarman finished third in last year’s Melbourne Cup. He scooped the 2-mile Auckland Cup last year and was narrowly beaten in the Sydney Cup this year, after which he has been focused solely on the Cup.
Coolmore’s promising Bondi Beach and the German-bred import Our Ivanhowe, formerly known simply as Ivanhowe, are also names to watch. The latter, however, has drawn the No. 22 gate. Trainer Lee Freedman, who has won five Melbourne Cups, blew it off. “Barriers are irrelevant in a Melbourne Cup.”
Current temperatures in Melbourne hover in the low 20s, and rain is in the forecast for the next couple days, which means a hard track is unlikely for Tuesday. Fame Game is essentially untested over a slow track. All but one of his 17 starts thus far have been over a fast track. He broke his maiden in 2012 over a slightly yielding surface. Hokko Brave is the more experienced of the two at a variety of going, with four of his 30 starts run over a slightly yielding surface, one over heavy going. He won three of the former and finished second in the latter.
Fame Game and Hokko Brave will be the sixth and seventh Japan-based horses to take on the Melbourne Cup. Japan’s first three runners all ran at the age of 5. Eye Popper first tried in 2005 and ran 12th. The following year Japan took the exacta with Delta Blues and Pop Rock, both from the stable of Katsuhiko Sumii. In 2010, Tokai Trick took on the race as an 8-year-old and finished in 12th place. Shinji Fujita rode Eye Popper and Tokai Trick, while Delta Blues’ victory came under Yasunari Iwata, Pop Rock’s second under Damien Oliver. Last year, Admire Rakti, also sired by Heart’s Cry and partnered with Zachary Purton, ran at the age of 6.
The Melbourne Cup, which became an international event from 1993, combines with the Caulfield Cup to form the spring’s Double Cup and is run on the second day of the Spring Carnival, which kicks off with Victoria Derby Day.
Flemington is Australia’s best-known racetrack. Added to the country’s National Heritage List by the federal government in 2006, Flemington Racecourse is located 6 km northwest of central Melbourne on the Maribyrnong River. Races are run to the left over the track with a circumference of 2,312 meters, a width of 30 meters, and one of the longest homestretches in the country at 450 meters. The course is considered impartial to all styles of running. The 3,200-meter Melbourne Cup begins in a chute off the home straight. Runners have a straight 900 meters before heading into the first turn.
The present record holder is Kingston Rule, who won in 1990 with a time of 3 minutes 16.3 seconds.
The Melbourne Cup is set for a 3 p.m. post time local time (1 p.m. Japan time). It is the seventh race on the Tuesday card of 10. First place is worth $3.6 million.
Protectionist scooped the 2014 Melbourne Cup and Japan’s Admire Rakti, who had posted a historic win of the Caulfield Cup and was penalized another half kilogram for the Melbourne Cup, finished 22nd, last in the field. He succumbed mere minutes later to massive heart failure. The tragedy and the horse will be remembered as Japanese racing fans root this year’s pair on unanimously. Let’s give them “One for Rakti!”
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