The Melbourne Cup: A dream ready to come true

Almost three decades after his first attempt to win the G1 Melbourne Cup, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, will make his 19th bid to win Australia’s greatest race.

Mike Hedge

It is a quest driven purely by a passion for horses and the love of the game – and the prospect of it being fulfilled has never been better.

Almost three decades after his first attempt to win the G1 Melbourne Cup, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, will make his 19th bid to win Australia’s greatest race.

At Flemington on Tuesday, November 1, the famous royal blue colours of Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin stable will be carried by five runners representing Dubai, Australia and the UK, along with the stables trainers Saeed bin Suroor, John O’Shea and Charlie Appleby.

When Hartnell, Oceanographer, Qewy, Secret Number and Beautiful Romance run in the 2016 renewal they will bring to 30, the number of starters Sheikh Mohammed has had in those 19 Melbourne Cups.

Sheikh Mohammed’s first involvement in the race came in 1988 when Authaal, prepared by Australian racing legend Colin Hayes and ridden by Brent Thomson, finished down the track behind Empire Rose.

Over the next three years his colours were carried by Kudz who was third to Tawriffic in 1989 and then by Water Boatman in 1990 and Ivory Way in 1991.

Sheikh Mohammed’s next Melbourne Cup mission came in 1998, by which time he had formed Godolphin, the global racing operation that is now the world’s largest.

The first runner in the royal blue colours was Faithful Son who had finished fourth in the G1 Caulfield Cup and then finished seventh under Frankie Dettori at Flemington.

A year later Central Park fuelled his owner’s passion with his second placing, as did Give The Slip who appeared to have the 2001 Cup won, only to be cut own by Ethereal.

The strength of Sheikh Mohammed’s commitment to Australia’s most famous race was emphasised in that 2001 running not only by the quality of the runner-up, but by his other runner Marienbard.

While he finished a reasonable seventh at Flemington, Marienbard went on to win the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe the following year.

Godolphin’s strongest representation until this year came in 2002 when three runners carrying the royal blue were led home by Beekeeper and Kerrin McEvoy who finished third. 

McEvoy was the first local jockey to ride a Godolphin Cup runner and his performance was a forerunner to his long and successful partnership with Godolphin.

While a Cup victory continued to elude Godolphin, the runners, all of them trained by Saeed bin Suroor, kept on coming.

All The Good made his mark by winning the G1 Caulfield Cup in 2008, but didn’t make it to Flemington, and Crime Scene provided another second placing in 2009.

Every year since there has been a Godolphin runner in the Melbourne Cup with the former English galloper Hartnell becoming the first Australian-trained representative last year.

This time around he is the leader of the pack.

Godolphin chief executive John Ferguson describes Hartnell as the ideal horse for Australia and the Melbourne Cup.

“He was always a horse we identified as having the size, scope and pedigree to go on as a four and five-year-old in Australia,” Ferguson said.

Previously owned by Dubai’s Crown Prince, His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, and trained in England by Mark Johnston, Hartnell’s best UK win came in a Listed three-year-old race over two miles at Royal Ascot in 2014.

“Horses for Australia need that sort of stamina to combat the great speed that the local horses have,” Ferguson said.

“Hartnell had that, and John O’Shea and his team have developed him into a versatile, classy racehorse.